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Report: PA Needs to Step Up Anti-Smoking Efforts

More than 18 percent of high school youth in Pennsylvania are smokers. (karosieben/pixabay)
More than 18 percent of high school youth in Pennsylvania are smokers. (karosieben/pixabay)
December 15, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. – More than 18 percent of high school-aged youth in the Keystone State are smokers, but a new report says Pennsylvania's efforts to curb tobacco use are very underfunded.

The annual report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says last year, the state spent $13.8 million on tobacco prevention programs and this year, the governor asked for even less.

According to John Schachter, director of state communications for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, that's costing the state both lives and money.

"We've got 22,000 deaths in the state every year due directly to tobacco use, and $6.4 billion in annual health care costs," he points out.

The study says the tobacco industry spends almost $470 million a year to market its products in Pennsylvania alone.

When it comes to smoking prevention efforts, Schachter says money shouldn't be an issue.

This year, states will collect almost $26 billion from the tobacco master settlement agreement and tobacco taxes. But Schachter points out that in Pennsylvania, very little goes to prevention efforts.

"The state raises over $1.3 billion a year, and it spends less than $14 million,” he stresses. “So, you're talking barely 1 percent of the tobacco revenue being spent on tobacco prevention."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the state spend $140 million a year on prevention efforts.

Only one state, North Dakota, actually meets the recommended goal, and the report says the high school smoking rate there has dropped almost 50 percent.

And Florida, which spends more than any other state on prevention, has reduced teen smoking to under 7 percent. The results, Schachter says, are measurable.

"Washington state – years ago, before they decimated their program – had studies showing that for every $1 they invested in tobacco prevention, they got $5 back in cost savings," he points out.

Health advocates would like to see Pennsylvania raise its cigarette tax and begin taxing other tobacco products, a move that has proven effective in other states at reducing tobacco use, especially among youth.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA