Once again Montana is at the bottom of the pack. This time it’s a cigarette pack.
Thirty-five percent of Montana kids smoke cigarettes. If present smoking trends continue, 13,000 of them will die prematurely from tobacco-related disease. And there’s no reason to expect trends to change.
According to the anti-smoking group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Montana ranks 43rd in the nation when it comes to spending money on smoking-prevention programs. That’s despite the $61 million the state has received since November 1998 when Montana and 45 other states settled a Medicaid lawsuit with the tobacco industry to recover tax money it spent treating tobacco-related disease.
As part of that landmark $246 billion settlement, the states promised to spend significant portions of their individual settlements on tobacco-prevention programs. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, it’s a promise that will pay off in the long run by reducing tobacco consumption, disease and publicly funded treatment.
Thus far, it’s a promise only five states have kept. Montana is not one of them. In November 2000 Montana voters approved a constitutional amendment to place 40 percent of the tobacco settlement into a health care trust fund. Ninety percent of the interest generated by the trust—$2.9 million in 2001—will be spent on health-related programs. The remaining 60 percent is earmarked for the state’s general fund.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that each state spend a minimum of between 20 and 25 percent of its settlement money annually on prevention programs. For Montana that amounts to between $9.3 million and $19.6 million. The state falls far short of those CDC recommendations, spending only $500,000—or 5 percent of the recommended minimum.
Lest anyone thinks that tobacco-prevention programs are unproven or a waste of money, consider the case of Florida, where tobacco use among children dropped by 47 percent after three years of aggressive anti-smoking programs. Or Oregon, which saw its tobacco use rate drop 41 percent among kids under 18, again because of tried and tested anti-smoking programs.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids estimates that some 2,000 kids take up smoking in Montana each year. Those same kids buy 3.8 million packs of cigarettes a year. If that number sounds astounding, consider the staggering amount of money the tobacco industry spends each year on advertising. In 1999, a year after the settlement, the tobacco industry upped its marketing nationwide by more than 22 percent to a whopping $22.5 million per day. That’s $26 million a year in advertising spent in Montana alone.
Tobacco kills 400,000 Americans every year, all preventable deaths that total more than the human cost of AIDS, alcohol, car wrecks, murders, suicides, illegal drugs and fires combined.