December 26, 2013

THEIR VIEW: Reinvest tobacco settlement money in smoking cessation effort


---- — At least Indiana isn’t spending its tobacco settlement dollars on roads, something former state senator Vi Simpson says some other states have done.

It’s too bad, though, that so little of it is going to what it was supposed pay for — convincing people to give up smoking or to never take it up, paying instead for other needs. Those needs are real, but diversion of tobacco money to cover them subverts the commitment the state made to Hoosiers 15 years ago, and in the long run, it will prove very costly.

Simpson served 28 years in the Indiana Senate, and was in the Senate when the huge, multi-state tobacco settlement was announced in 1998. In that, the tobacco industry agreed to pay almost $250 billion over 25 years to settle lawsuits by 46 states to recover Medicaid costs for victims of tobacco related illnesses.

The watershed case came after decades of denials by tobacco manufacturers that smoking made people sick.

Under the plan, each state receives annual payments to reimburse costs of tobacco’s effects on health, with an understanding, although not a requirement, that a significant portion of the money be spent on anti-smoking efforts, with an emphasis on reaching young people.

Indiana was scheduled to receive close to $150 million in settlement money next year, a portion of which is now under threat following a ruling (now under appeal) that the state hasn’t done enough to enforce settlement terms on small tobacco companies that were not part of the original settlement.

Whatever the sum turns out to be, the portion set aside for prevention and cessation efforts will be too small. According to last week’s national report, “A Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 15 Years Later,” Indiana ranks 31st on such spending.

Another just-released study reported that 24 percent of Indiana adults smoke, placing us 44th among 50 states in that category.

Those kinds of numbers indicate that more rather than less should be spent on reducing smoking.

According to Simpson, Indiana at least restricted its settlement spending to health matters, such as child immunizations. That’s good. But should not funding of those efforts, as needed as they are, come from other sources?

Of course, when there’s “free” money to be had — after all, this cash windfall hasn’t cost state taxpayers anything directly — the deck is easily reshuffled. Tax revenue that might have paid for immunizations can be diverted to other needs, with tobacco money picking up those costs.

It’s very troubling that despite evidence that teen smoking dropped by a third in Indiana from 2001 to 2011, anti-smoking spending is under continual attack, and we now spend only about $5.8 million annually for such efforts. That’s about 7 percent of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. A bigger investment would be a wise investment.

— Herald-Times, Bloomington

THE ISSUE How Indiana uses its tobacco settlement dollars. THEIR VIEW Funneling the money into smoking cessation efforts is a much wiser investment.