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Published: Sunday, 9/12/2010

Losing war on tobacco

States are reaping what they sowed from shortsighted policy decisions about funding anti-smoking programs. The latest proof is a new government report that concludes adult smoking rates, which had been declining for three decades, stopped going down over the past five years.

That's what happens when the emphasis on curbing cigarette smoking moves to the back burner and cash-strapped states, including Ohio, raid funds targeted for smoking cessation and prevention.

Ten years ago, Ohio had plans for a $1.2 billion endowment that would provide annual income to pay for anti-smoking programs well into the future. Today, that funding source is nearly gutted and the state's 20 percent adult smoking rate is creeping up. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports one in five American adults smokes cigarettes, a percentage that has not fallen since 2005.

The reason for the plateau, the CDC concludes, is that tobacco companies have increased their efforts at marketing and selling, while states have cut funding to combat tobacco use. CDC Director Thomas Frieden said states spent $700 million last year on anti-smoking programs, while the tobacco industry spent $12 billion to promote its products.

The money states glean from tobacco-related income, such as taxes on cigarettes and settlement money, is increasingly diverted to pay for prisons, roads, and other projects. Smoking-prevention programs are among the first places lawmakers raid to cover budget gaps. They don't acknowledge the payback that a well-run program can offer.

California has made a big investment in anti-smoking education and smoking-cessation programs. The return in health-care savings on that expense has been huge: Smoking dropped 40 percent and lung cancer rates fell four times faster than in the rest of the United States.

If Ohio and other states emulated programs such as California's, the CDC is confident that many fewer people would smoke. That would break a bad habit that remains the top cause of preventable death in the country.

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