Countering tobacco
industry’s seduction
is constant, costly


The state has dropped slightly in rank for funding anti-tobacco and prevention programs.

HAWAII'S drop from sixth to seventh place nationally in anti-tobacco funding simply means that another state is spending a higher percentage of a recommended amount. But there will be little comfort in quibbling about numbers if more young people take up the nasty and dangerous habit.

A report last week showed that Ohio moved closer to the funding level the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sets for that state, 86.3 percent, boosting it from 10th to fifth place. Hawaii's $8.9 million in spending remained at 82.6 percent of recommendations.

The good news is that the percentage of Hawaii adults who smoke dipped from 20.6 percent to 17.3 percent. The bad news is that high school smokers stayed flat at 24.5 percent, indicating that this key target group for prevention remains at risk.

The report pointedly noted that while state funding hasn't increased, "Hawaii is receiving more tobacco-generated revenue than ever before," the result of a 10-cent cigarette tax increase to $1.40 per pack that took effect in July.

At present, the state spends only 7.7 percent of $115.2 million it will collect this year from tobacco taxes and the 1998 settlement with major tobacco companies that was meant to help states recover the cost of health treatment for smokers and for prevention programs.

Since the settlement, some of the state's allocations have been diverted to the costs of building the University of Hawaii medical school and to other health-related programs. By comparison, Hawaii has, for the large part, used its estimated $40 million in annual allotments appropriately.

Even so, the money has proven tempting to lawmakers and the administration when budgetary needs exceed revenues. In 2003, for example the state Legislature transferred $1.9 million in interest earned from the special fund to the state's general coffers.

The battle against smoking, however, must be as relentless as the tobacco industry's marketing campaigns to lure smokers. In 2002, the industry doled out $37.9 million in Hawaii, outspending anti-tobacco efforts by a 4 to 1 margin.

Companies clearly target young people, as evident earlier this year when R.J. Reynolds produced candy-flavored cigarettes with exotic names, one of which was called Kauai Kolada. The product is so offensive to the islands that Governor Lingle asked the company to cease using the name, but to no avail.

The CDC estimates that smoking kills about 1,000 Hawaii residents a year, about 16 percent of all deaths in the state. Health care costs directly caused by smoking total $263 million.

If the state is to counter the tobacco industry and reduce smoking's deadly consequences, it cannot lower its guard. Increasing allocations for preventative programs should be a priority for the governor and state lawmakers when the legislative session begins next month.

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