Isles fail in use
of tobacco funds

The CDC wants the settlement
to be used to prevent smoking

By Helen Altonn

Siphoning a big chunk of money from the tobacco settlement to finance a new medical school pushed Hawaii into the ranks of the worst states in the country for use of the funds for tobacco prevention.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids listed Hawaii among the "most disappointing" jurisdictions for meeting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for spending tobacco settlement funds.

Others are Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson said today that Hawaii historically has been a leader in using the state's $40 million annual tobacco monies for health-related programs.

About 60 percent of the settlement funds initially were targeted for prevention activities, he said, but some of the money has since been diverted for other purposes.

"A significant diversion was use of the monies to build a biomedical complex. That arguably is for health purposes," Anderson said.

But, he added, "Certainly, it is not going to tobacco control. That was a major concern to advocates recognizing the need for more funding for anti-tobacco controls."

The Legislature passed a law last year to use the tobacco settlement money to finance $150 million in bonds for construction of a University of Hawaii Medical school in Kakaako.

About 25 percent of the tobacco money, $10 million, was going into a tobacco trust fund each year, with earnings being used for prevention programs.

The Legislature cut that to 12.5 percent, reducing the trust amount to $5 million.

A rainy day fund also was cut from 40 percent to 28 percent so the rest could go to the medical school bond fund.

Legislators also heard a bill last Saturday that would redirect $3 million from the tobacco money to meet deficits in other areas.

Other states also are dipping into tobacco settlement funds to balance their budgets, said Joel Spivak, spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

"These are penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions that ignore the conclusive evidence that tobacco prevention programs not only reduce smoking and save lives, but also save far more money than they cost by reducing smoking-caused health-care expenditures."

Only seven states were supporting smoking cessation efforts at minimum levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the end of 2001. They were Arizona, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Ohio and Vermont. Minnesota will join them this year.

Hawaii's fund goes to the state Health Department where it is used to promote nutrition and exercise and prevent smoking through the "Healthy Hawaii Initiative" program.

Up to 10 percent of the money is also allocated for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Anderson said the department "probably is going to be dipping into the capital (of the trust fund) as we finance tobacco control programs in order to keep pace."

He said there are other funding sources now and, adding them up, the agency is spending more money than before on tobacco prevention.

"We're fairly close to our target. That's approximately $10 million (a year)."

Anderson said it's "unfortunate that funds have been diverted" from the tobacco program because smoking "still is the No. 1 problem in this state, and every other state in the country. It's the most important risk factor as it relates to health today.

"We have a long ways to go until we can effectively deal with this problem. It's a voluntary risk that is 100 percent preventable and, certainly, more attention needs to be focused on the problem."

He said more kids are smoking today at younger ages than before "and we're losing the battle in the teenage population. Older adults seem to have gotten the message. We're seeing less smoking there."

National health organizations concerned about smoking-related diseases expressed alarm at the trend to use tobacco settlement money to solve budget problems.

"It's inexcusable," said Cass Wheeler, American Heart Association chief executive officer. "I think the governors have forgotten what the settlement was designed for."

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