published Friday, December 7th, 2012

Tennessee, Georgia spending for anti-smoking efforts not priority, study finds

Cigarette smoking
Cigarette smoking
Photo by The Tennessean /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WHO'S SMOKING?

Nationally

* 19 percent of adults

* 18.1 percent of high school-age youth

Tennessee

* 23 percent of adults

* 21.6 percent of high school-age youth

* 7,600 new teen smokers every year

* 9,700 lives lost to smoking-related causes each year

* $2.2 billion in smoking-related health care bills each year

Georgia

* 21.2 percent of adults

* 17 percent of high school-age youth

* 10,500 lives lost to smoking-related causes each year

* $2.5 billion in smoking-related health care bills each year

Source: "Broken Promises to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 14 Years Later."

NASHVILLE — Spending by Tennessee and Georgia to prevent children from starting to smoke and to get grown-ups to quit is low and getting lower, according to a national report released Thursday.

The report from a coalition of health groups says Tennessee is 45th among states for funding smoking prevention and cessation, down from 44th in the last fiscal year.

Georgia's ranking dropped from 40th to 43rd, said the report, "Broken Promises to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 14 Years Later."

Tennessee now spends just $222,267 on prevention and cessation efforts. That's up about $20,000 from last year, but just 0.03 percent of the $71.7 million recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Georgia now spends $750,000 or 0.06 percent, of the CDC's recommended $116.5 million.

Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner said the state has "actually quite a few things we're doing to reduce smoking in Tennessee." That includes a smoking cessation telephone line (1-800-quitnow) that offers free counseling to callers, he said.

Prevention should start at home, he said. Talk about the dangers of smoking is a "conversation that parents need to have with their children. That's a conversation that clinicians and educators need to have."

Still, he said, "We certainly would like to see more resources directed at that, and that's something we're going to be looking at going forward."

Officials also plan to launch a billboard and bus-stop sign campaign that reminds smokers of how much money they're spending on tobacco. Some smokers disregard other "motivators," such as the examples they set for youths and the dangers to their own health like heart disease and cancer.

"But you start talking about their pocketbook and that's a motivator," he said.

Regular smokers spend $2,000 to $3,000 or more a year on their habit.

In 2007, Tennessee lawmakers hiked the cigarette tax from 20 cents to 62 cents per pack.

They also banned smoking in most workplaces, including restaurants. The exception is establishments that ban anyone under 21.

Dreyzehner noted that Tennessee smokers also are snuffing the habit at a faster pace than the national average.

But "no amount of funding, I think, is going to end smoking," he said. "This has to be something we take on as a community, that we take responsibility for as a society and we culturalize."

The report found a national funding shortfall for tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

States are receiving billions over a period of years from a settlement with major tobacco companies, but little of the money has found its way into anti-smoking programs, the report says.

Tennessee this year will collect $581 million in settlement revenue but spend less than a penny on the dollar on anti-tobacco measures.

In the past, Tennessee lawmakers used most of that money to plug a recurring budget funding hole. Later, Gov. Phil Bredesen dedicated the funds to K-12 education.

The study was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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