The Garden City Telegram
12/29/2012
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Tobacco toll

Kansas should balance use of settlement funds, taxes.

Count Kansas among 17 states to reach an agreement with cigarette companies over payments required in a 1998 anti-smoking agreement.

The states are in line for a portion of more than $4 billion in disputed payments.

As details of the settlement unfold, one question would be in how such future income will be put to use.

Since 1999, tobacco company payments to Kansas have totaled $761 million, with a significant portion going to programs and services for children and at-risk families — important initiatives the state should adequately fund one way or another.

The hope is the latest settlement helps preserve children's programs that had been in jeopardy.

Kansas cannot allow educational and other programs that give youngsters a solid foundation — Early Head Start, for example — to stall.

At the same time, state officials also need to weigh the value of investing more funds from settlement payments and tobacco taxes in strategies that encourage people to kick the habit, or avoid smoking in the first place.

A report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association and American Cancer Society showed Kansas spending less than 10 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation, with only $1 million a year in tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

That's just 3.1 percent of the CDC recommended $32.1 million spending to have an effective, comprehensive tobacco prevention program.

Such a record of insufficient spending hurts, especially when putting more funds into prevention has paid off elsewhere in curbing the costly health-related fallout of tobacco use.

The state of Washington reportedly saved more than $5 in tobacco-related hospitalization costs for every $1 spent during the first 10 years of its tobacco-prevention program.

If other states did as much, it would go a long way in reducing tobacco-related health costs that run the nation nearly $100 billion a year. And, more lives would be saved.

With that in mind, a state interested in the future well-being of its residents should acknowledge the value of using all tobacco-related funds as effectively as possible in supporting both children's programs and anti-tobacco measures.