Deep cuts in spending on tobacco prevention and cessation programs has dropped Iowa eight spots in a national ranking of states based on their support of anti-smoking efforts. The national report released Wednesday by a coalition of public health organizations ranks Iowa 28th for its funding of programs that aim to keep kids from smoking cheap Marlboro cigarette and help current smokers quit.
That ranking is eight spots below its No. 20 position last year, according to the annual report titled, “A Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 13 years later,” released by a group of organizations including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and American Lung Association.
“The ranking is an embarrassment,” said Gary Streit, a member of the state’s Commission on Tobacco Use Prevention and Control who lives in Cedar Rapids. “It really upsets me, and it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s an investment in our health, and it’s an infinitesimal part of the state budget.”
Iowa’s drop in the rankings is the result of cuts to tobacco prevention funding since 2008, according to the report. Spending on such efforts has been slashed by 73 percent since that time and, in the past year alone, Iowa cut funding by 56 percent. It’s current funding level of $3.3 million is only 9 percent of the $36.7 million that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the state spend on tobacco prevention efforts.
While Iowa expects to collect $294 million this budget year from the 1998 tobacco settlement and taxes, it has budgeted to spend just 1.1 percent of that on tobacco prevention programs, the report states.
“This means Iowa is spending just one penny of every dollar in tobacco revenue to fight tobacco use,” according to the report, which goes on to say that tobacco companies are spending $102 million a year to advertise in Iowa.
“This is 31 times what the state spends on tobacco prevention,” according to the report.
“We have had, up until the last year or two, a well coordinated reasonably funded tobacco control program,” Streit said. “Now there is no money to be spent on youth prevention activities.”
Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration earlier this year announced efforts to reshape tobacco prevention and control strategies in Iowa. Along with funding reductions, the state Department of Public Health announced the elimination of the position directing the agency’s Division of Tobacco Use Prevention and Control due to budget constraints.
“We had made progress,” Streit said. “And now I think we are going to see our tobacco usage numbers start to increase, and our costs are going to escalate with it.”
Nearly 19 percent of Iowa high school students smoke, according to the national report, and 3,800 more young people become regular smokers every year. Tobacco products claim 4,400 lives annually, and it costs Iowa $1.01 billion in health care, according to the report.
Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for the Branstad administration, said Gov. Branstad supports tobacco prevention and cessation efforts.
“But he wants to make sure they are effective programs,” Albrecht said. “Some of the programs in place in years past would conduct blanket television adds targeting just 20 percent of the population. Gov. Branstad supports using the most effective methods to curb smoking in the state.”
As part of Branstad’s initiative to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation, smoking cessation and prevention is crucial, Albrecht said. The governor actually recommended more money for the state’s anti-smoking initiatives, but legislators during the 2012 budget year decided it should be lower.
“Gov. Branstad is interested in continuing to look for more effective policies to curb smoking, and he will continue to do so,” Albrecht said. “Ultimately what matters is bringing down the percentage of tobacco users in Iowa.”