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On today’s rundown, all eyes on the G.O.P. tax plan - labor groups say it’s not good for working families, and the view from Michigan is the likely loss of many services across the state; plus, report today on Black Friday and Native American Heritage Day

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WV Anti-Smoking Funds Fall, State Tobacco Use High

The number of cigarette packs sold per person has fallen around the county, but remain high in West Virginia. (Coalition for Tobacco Free West Virginia)
The number of cigarette packs sold per person has fallen around the county, but remain high in West Virginia. (Coalition for Tobacco Free West Virginia)
December 16, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state has cut funds for West Virginia anti-smoking programs by nearly one-fifth - even as West Virginia has become, by some measures, the state with the highest rate of tobacco use.

About one in four adults and one in five state high schoolers use tobacco. But Chuck Hamsher, government-relations coordinator for the Coalition for Tobacco-Free West Virginia, said the state has cut tobacco prevention and cessation funding by about $1 million since 2010. He said it's no surprise that smoking has declined in other states but not here.

"We had an uphill battle here to begin with, based on our population and our over-the-top use rates," he said. "Those numbers are not dipping the way we would want to see them dip and there're not dipping the way they are around the rest of the country."

According to a new report, "Broken Promises to Our Children," tobacco corporations spend more than 25 times on marketing what the state spends to reduce smoking. The report from public health groups including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said the state spends just a fraction of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

Hamsher said the cuts to the anti-smoking programs happened a bit at a time, because the state's budget has been so tight over the last few years.

"We've basically seen a gradual slide, but it's now turned into some substantial money," he said, "and, obviously, that's had its impact into virtually every program that's going on out there."

West Virginia's tobacco tax is more than $1 a pack below the national average. That wins praise from some smokers and tax opponents. But Hamsher said it doesn't make sense when tobacco causes 4,300 deaths a year here and ends up costing state taxpayers an extra $1 billion in public health costs. He said a good solution would be a sharp increase in the tax, which would make some quit and keep many young people from starting.

"We want sticker shock when they go to buy their smokes," he said. "That's often the thing that pushes the large portion of everyday smokers who don't like it, who are looking for a reason to quit. Those higher prices often can be that reason."

Hamsher said his organization again will push for a sharp rise in the state's low tobacco tax during the legislative session that starts in a month. Those efforts have been stalled in the past, with opposition from the tobacco industry and convenience stores worried about sales.

More information is online at tobacco-free-wv.com. The Tobacco Free Kids report is at tfk.org/statereport.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV