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Report: TN Diverts Majority of Tobacco Tax to Unrelated Programs

Nearly a quarter of adults and 15 percent of high school students in Tennessee smoke, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. (DodgertonSkillhause/morguefile.com)
Nearly a quarter of adults and 15 percent of high school students in Tennessee smoke, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. (DodgertonSkillhause/morguefile.com)
December 21, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee collected $400 million last year from its tax on tobacco and the settlement made with cigarette companies in the 1990s, and spent only $5 million of that, a little more than 1 percent, on tobacco prevention programs.

That's significantly lower than the recommended spending by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), which is $75 million annually.

Those facts are highlighted in a report released this month by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which ranks the Volunteer State 36th in the country when it comes to spending.

John Schachter, the campaign’s spokesman, says it would also help to update state laws.

"We know for example that Tennessee is one of the few states that has no statewide smoke-free laws, not covering restaurants or bars or even smoke-free workplaces," he points out.

Tennessee's tobacco tax is 62 cents per pack, well below the national average of a $1.60.

Schachter says while the state spends a fraction on tobacco use prevention and education, the tobacco industry spends almost $300 million annually on marketing in the state.

In 2008, Tennessee spent $10 million on tobacco prevention.

"States used to spend, across the board, a lot more on tobacco prevention programs, and over the years, as state budgets have been in flux and as we've made great strides in fighting tobacco use, you've seen states back off of their spending," he states.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 24 percent adults and 15 percent of high school students in Tennessee smoke.

Schachter says Tennessee and its neighbors feel a significant burden from tobacco's effects.

"The impact of tobacco use is more heavily weighed on southern states,” he relates. “These are states that have higher tobacco usage rates, higher cancer rates, higher heart disease rates, really a lot of the issues that deal with smoking-related issues are worse in that region."

The report also notes that smoking generates $2.6 million in annual health care costs, creating a state and federal tax burden of a $1,000 per household.


Stephanie Carson/Scott Herron, Public News Service - TN