Tobacco settlement fund shift criticized


POSTED: Thursday, April 23, 2009

Siphoning money from Hawaii's tobacco prevention programs to help solve state budget gaps as proposed in a Senate bill “;is not a wise thing to do,”; says Jean Evans, the executive director of the American Lung Association in Hawaii.

The tobacco settlement fund was intended “;to create a healthy, smoke-free Hawaii”; and programs are working, Evans said. “;Diverting these monies to the state general fund would significantly harm programs that have reduced teen smoking by 60 percent.”;

Senate Bill 292 cuts the amount going into the tobacco prevention and control trust fund to 2 percent from 12.5 percent or about $11 million.

Other states that have cut tobacco program funding, such as California and Massachusetts, have had significant increases in smoking rates and health care costs, she said.

She and Trisha Nakamura, policy and advocacy director with the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii, emphasized the dangers of reducing smoking prevention allocations yesterday as House-Senate conferees worked on differences in the measure.

“;I know they're looking for money, but this is inexcusable,”; Evans said. “;It is a small amount of money in the big picture. Prevention does save money in the short and long run.”;

Evans said teen smoking rates dropped to 9.7 percent from 24.5 percent from 2000 to 2007. Adult rates also dropped to 15.4 percent from 19.7 percent last year, she said.

Hawaii had the second lowest smoking-related death rate in the nation per 100,000 population (after Utah) from 2000 to 2004, according to a federal study.

Nakamura said even a 2 percent increase in the smoking rate will cost an estimated $11 million over five years in smoking-related health costs. “;It will mean all the gains we've made to reduce teen and adult smoking will be eroded out.”;

She said the coalition's quit line had a 43 percent increase in calls between February and March, believed due to a federal tax increase to $1.01 from 39 cents per pack of cigarettes.

A 60-cents-per-pack state tax increase has been proposed, effective in July on top of the federal increase.

“;I know a lot of people will quit,”; Nakamura said.