Vermont among best in national for smoking cessation efforts
By Anders Ax
CORRESPONDENT | January 03,2013
Vermont ranked 10th in the nation in 2012 for its funding of tobacco prevention and cessation programs, according to a coalition of public health organizations.
Ronda Williams, chronic disease prevention chief for the state’s Health Promotion Disease Prevention Division, said Vermont has succeeded in battling the prevalence of tobacco, reducing its rate of use, resulting in a cost savings.
“We’ve benefitted from a strong and well-formed advocacy,” Williams said. “Even though it’s not an illegal product, it’s one we need to keep from use, and perform every measure to prevent.”
Since 1999, Vermont has seen a 58 percent reduction rate in the number of high school smokers — from 33.4 percent to 13.3 percent.
That information, and much more, comes from a national report, “Broken Promises to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 14 Years Later.” It was recently released by numerous organizations including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and the American Lung Association.
“Vermont’s commitment to tobacco prevention is paying off with large declines in youth smoking that will save lives and save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs,” Matthew L Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in a statement.
The tobacco settlement was reached in November 1998 between the four largest tobacco industries — Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, and Lorillard — and the attorneys general of 46 states. States’ Medicaid lawsuits were settled and the companies agreed to terminate certain tobacco marketing practices while also making annual payments to states to compensate the costs of caring for people with smoking-related illnesses.
Vermont will collect $127 million in tobacco revenue this year from the 1998 national tobacco settlement and from taxes on tobacco. However, just under $4 million will be spent on tobacco prevention, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Vermont spend $10.4 million.
“We do the best we can with the money that we have and I think this administration is very forward thinking,” Williams said referring to the unmet CDC recommendation. “Fortunately, there’s been more and more research of the values seen in well-funded tobacco programs.”
Williams added that a state like California, which has a “longstanding, well-funded control program,” also has one of the lowest smoking rates of high school students in the nation — 13.8 percent of 304,000 high school students, compared to Vermont’s 13.3 percent over 4,800 students.
Williams continued, “If a program dips below a certain threshold, you’re going to see weakened outcomes. ... The prevalence starts to rise again.”
Programs included in statewide tobacco prevention and cessation programs include quit-online resources, quit-by-phone and one-on-one health coaching from health coaches and trained community members.
Also contributing to reduced tobacco use: Vermont’s cigarette tax has increased by $2.62 per pack since 1999, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Williams says the Vermont Department of Health also looks to partner with local Rotary Clubs, Boys and Girls Clubs and other youth-funded groups and other community coalitions and individuals that have been responsible for creating smoke-free public areas.
Despite financing against tobacco products, the state spends only a quarter of what tobacco companies spend each year in Vermont — $16.9 million.
The report also stated that 700 Vermont kids become new smokers every year while 800 lives are claimed annually by tobacco, costing the state $233 million in health care bills. Nationally, $96 billion each year is spent on tobacco-related health care costs.
Last year, Vermont had ranked 11th in funding tobacco prevention, spending $3.3 million compared to $5.5 million in 2009.
Overall, $25.7 billion will be collected by the states from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but only 1.8 percent, $459.5 million, will go toward tobacco-prevention programs.
The CDC recommends that $3.7 billion go into prevention and cessation programs, yet altogether states have only budgeted 12.4 percent of that. Alaska and North Dakota are currently the only states to fund at the CDC-recommended level. Alaska and North Dakota also rank first and second, respectively, in the report for funding such programs.
Tobacco use still remains the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., claiming more than 400,000 lives every year, the report said.
Information and resources related to quitting cigarettes and other tobacco products is available online at www.vtquitnetwork.org.
“These resources are made available to everyone no matter their circumstance,” Williams said. “Whether you call or visit your local cessation counselor, they’re friendly they’re well trained — and it works.”