by Janet Napolitano, Arizona Attorney General and Grant Woods, Former Arizona Attorney General
In 1994, Arizona voters passed a landmark initiative to raise the tobacco excise tax to fund a comprehensive program to combat the devastating effects tobacco use has on our health care system. For each dollar raised, 23 cents goes to a Health Education account to fund tobacco prevention and education programs. The rest goes to tobacco-related disease research and healthcare services for medically needy people.
Arizonans should be proud of the tobacco prevention they created. All the results from the state reviews to studies performed by the Centers for Disease Control show that our program has been effective, and other states are using Arizona as a model for success.
"These findings are a positive sign that education and prevention programs do work," said CDC Director, Dr. Jeffrey Koplan. "If every state implemented programs like those in Arizona, we could expect to cut the adult smoking rate by half during the next decade."
Our results, attained despite being outspent on the marketing 10-1 by the tobacco industry, are indeed impressive:
Almost 1,300 schools throughout the state have active tobacco prevention programs in place.
Smoking levels among adults in Arizona have declined 21 percent since this program was implemented.
Since 1998, more than 33,000 people have called the Arizona Smokers' Helpline.
Between 1996 and 1999 there was a 24 percent DECREASE in smoking among 18- to 24-year-olds (from 27.5 percent to 21 percent) at a time when there was a 17 percent INCREASE in smoking in this age group nationally.
About 21,370 fewer Arizonans used smokeless tobacco products in 1991 than in 1996.
In the last 4 years, smoking among middle school children has decreased 39 percent (from 18.7 percent to 11.4 percent)
All good news all now in jeopardy.
The Governor and some state legislators are proposing to raid the Health Education account to help balance the state budget. They say we should just get rid of those "smelly, puking ads" and can use the money for other things. But this ignores the will of the voters, it costs us more money in the long run, and completely squanders the prevention investments we have already made.
The tobacco prevention effort is not just about producing a bunch of eye-catching TV ads. The majority of the funds have always gone to public and youth outreach, and in this upcoming year, those outreach programs will receive even greater emphasis.
We know prevention works. We also know that every sustained one-percent decline in adult smoking saves the state $280 million in health care costs over the lifetimes of those adults who quit. That's why the prevention program must be saved.
Smoking is still the single largest killer in the United States and in Arizona. Annual costs to Arizona from tobacco-related death and illness, including lost years of productivity and healthcare costs, is more than $1.1 billion.
Raiding tobacco prevention funds will only let Big Tobacco have their way with our children and will not give our kids the reinforcement they need to stop smoking or to never even start.
We simply cannot balance the state's budget on the hearts and lungs of Arizona's children. We encourage you to contact the governor and your state legislators to tell them to leave the tobacco prevention dollars alone. For more information, call 1-800-333-5994 ext. 310 or go online to www.saveAZkids.org.