Op-Ed: More funding means fewer tobacco deaths and a healthier Connecticut

quitlinelogoTobacco use is the nation’s most preventable cause of death, and half a million people in the United States will die from tobacco-related diseases this year. Right here in Connecticut, tobacco use kills more people each year than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, accidents and suicides combined.

The good news is that 70 percent of Connecticut’s smokers indicate they want to quit and 40 percent attempt to quit each year. The bad news is that only about 5 percent are successful. Many fail because, in part, of a lack of access to successful cessation programs.

Op-ed submit bugWe all have a part to play in helping tobacco users quit and preventing youth from ever starting the deadly, addictive habit. One of the most effective ways we can do this is by supporting and funding tobacco control and cessation programs in Connecticut.

Investing in tobacco prevention and cessation makes sense on multiple levels.  Solid evidence from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many states show that it decreases tobacco use, and ultimately decreases the high human and health care costs associated with tobacco use.

Connecticut receives over $500 million annually between the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) funds and tobacco tax revenue. Over the years less than 1 percent of the cumulative total has been spent in support of smoking cessation services.  In 2013 the state spent $6 million on cessation; however for 2014 and now 2015, that number has been roughly cut in half.

Unfortunately, this funding crisis is not new: Connecticut has never fully funded its tobacco control programs to the level recommended by the CDC.  2015 marks the 15th anniversary of the MSA – yet despite the intention of the agreement, whereby tobacco companies entered into a $250 billion settlement to compensate states for past and future smoking-related expenditures – the money is not translating to cessation programs here in Connecticut.

The numbers speak for themselves: if all state spending over the past 15 years is combined, the total doesn’t amount to even one year of the CDC’s recommended spending level for tobacco control and cessation.

Evidence-based tobacco use cessation methods have been proven to be effective in a variety of populations; however, tobacco cessation services in Connecticut are sparse and under-advertised. Programs that do exist at some Community Health Centers, local health departments and hospitals are supported by specific grants from the state’s Tobacco and Health Trust Fund, federal block grants or other funding that is not sustainable.

Many of these programs cease when dollars run out.

While the state continues to underfund programs proven to reduce tobacco use, the annual health care costs associated with tobacco use continue to increase.Connecticut incurs $1.63 billion in annual health care costs and another $1 billion in lost productivity directly caused by tobacco use each year.

An investment in prevention and cessation today will pay back in the future with decreased costs to our state and businesses.

While understanding there are many competing priorities in any state budget, improving public health by preventing kids from using tobacco and helping adults quit is a proven and worthwhile investment.  It’s time for Connecticut to get serious about reducing tobacco use and, thus, tobacco-related death and disease, by adequately funding programs to do just that.

Andrew Salner, M.D., is director of The Helen & Harry Gray Cancer Center at Hartford Hospital; and an advocate for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). 

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