States Blow Smoke At Prevention Efforts, Study Says

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Smoking tempers and words greeted a recent report claiming that just 5 percent of the $206 billion tobacco settlement with 46 states has been used for smoking prevention efforts.

"Getting funds for smoking prevention efforts, especially among young people, was the reason the suit against Big Tobacco was filed in the first place," laments Peter Fisher, assistant director of advocacy at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. "It is the latest disturbing piece of evidence that states are not living up to their agreement."

The 1998 agreement calls for the funds to be dispersed over the next 25 years. Last month's report, "State Management and Allocation of Tobacco Settlement Revenue" (at, prepared by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), shows that states are using the settlement money primarily for health care (36.1 percent) and bolstering endowments or state budget reserves (26 percent). 

A report released earlier this year by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids detailed in even starker terms where the initial settlement money has gone. Michigan, for example, has spent 75 percent of its money on a new college scholarship fund while 25 percent went to state universities for biomedical research. In North Dakota, the lion's share was used for water projects and education funding. None of the states adhere to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines that recommend at least 20 percent of the money be targeted for prevention.

"The governors of the states consider this money manna from heaven to do with as they like - paving roads, whatever, but paying little attention to prevention. It is tragic," says Dr. Tom Houston, co-director of the Robert Wood Johnson-funded Smokeless States project, now in 40 states.

"Joe Camel may be dead," says Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, "but tobacco industry tactics to lure the young are alarmingly alive."

Blumenthal says he is "ashamed and outraged" that his state has spent a paltry 2 percent of the $400 million it has received on prevention efforts. "This state is spending much less than it could or should reaching children who are being relentlessly pursued by the tobacco industry in its advertising. We should be fighting fire with fire."

A very different view, however, is held by Joyce Johnson Wilson, director of  the NCSL's Health Committee. "There is no groundswell of angst coming from the people in the states about how money is spent," she says. Wilson cites North Dakota as an example of a state where settlement money was put to good use. "They used it for water projects that were in disrepair following major flood damage," she says, "and the people, the residents of the state, approved."

All of these efforts, she reinforces, "are the will of the people in the individual state and if they don't like what they see, they have the ultimate power at the ballot box."

In Minnesota, however, about 11 percent of the settlement money goes to tobacco prevention, says Judy Knapp, executive director of the Minnesota Smoke-Free Coalition. A youth-led anti-tobacco program called Teen Market (TM) is funded at $1.1 million, using interest on a $390 million endowment for prevention programs. TM (so-named after the tobacco industry's reference to teens as the "target market") uses the same marketing tactics as tobacco companies - TV advertising, high visibility events, promotional gear - and boasts a membership of more than 15,000 teens, triple its original goal of 5,000 new members by last fall. All messages are delivered by the teens themselves.

"Minnesota is very fortunate in that it has youth programs that are beginning to produce results," Knapp says.