The Associated Press
BECKLEY -- A coalition of public health groups has ranked West Virginia 21st in spending its share of a national tobacco settlement on smoking cessation programs for minors.
West Virginia has set aside less than half the minimum amount the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended states spend on anti-tobacco programs, according to a report released Thursday by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
West Virginia and 43 other states got windfalls from the $206 billion national settlement with tobacco companies. Under the 1998 agreement, states are free to spend their money as they see fit.
The national Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommended that about 20 percent of the overall settlement be spent to combat smoking, but less than 10 percent of the $8.2 billion allocated to the states in the fiscal years 2000 and 2001 was used for smoking cession, according to the report.
The CDC has said West Virginia should be spending between $14.16 million and $35.37 million on youth smoking prevention. To date, the state has spent $5.85 million. At the same time, the state has spent $490 million on public and private health care directly linked to nicotine.
"West Virginia has made a modest commitment, but unless West Virginia's leaders act quickly to allocate more settlement dollars for tobacco prevention, they will miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect kids from tobacco addiction and save lives," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C.
Each year, some 8,000 children become daily smokers. In West Virginia, about 42.2 percent of high schoolers smoke, the report said.
The CDC estimated the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses at more than $50 billion annually, with states bearing at least $6 billion of that in Medicare expenses.
Through the 1998 tobacco settlement, West Virginia is targeted to collect a payment between $56.8 million and $74.4 million annually.
The recommended spending levels for tobacco prevention were set in 1999. Six states currently meeting them are Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Maine and Mississippi.
Tobacco-growing states were ranked at the bottom on what they spend on prevention. Kentucky, the nation's top Burley producer, was ranked 32nd. The report states that Kentucky allocates $5 million annually for prevention, which is 23 percent of what the CDC recommended.
"I think it's a more difficult issue in tobacco-producing states. Legislators are a lot less likely to want to do anything to prevent and reduce smoking," said Amy Barkley, a representative for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Louisville, Ky.
Kentucky's Public Health Commissioner, Dr. Rice Leach, said the state was committed to helping smokers kick the habit.
"People who don't know Kentucky assume we've just been sitting back, lighting up and not doing anything, and that's just not true," Leach said.
The American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association co-authored the report. ----
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