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Tobacco companies outspend government in contest to addict smokers

This giant gap is undermining efforts to save lives and health care dollars by reducing tobacco use, the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, the report warns.

In fiscal year 2016, the states will collect $25.8 billion from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes. But they have budgeted less than two percent of it – $468 million – for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, according to the annual report assessing state funding of such programs.

In contrast, the major cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies spend $9.6 billion a year – more than one million dollars each hour – on marketing, according to the most recent data from the Federal Trade Commission. This amounts to 20 times what the states spend on tobacco prevention.

Tobacco use kills more than 480,000 Americans and costs the nation about $170 billion in health care spending each year. Without strong action now, 5.6 million kids alive today will die prematurely from smoking-caused disease, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

Garden State politicians squandered all the money due from a national settlement with tobacco companies, using bond deals to suck dry future revenues, so the latest budget from Republican Gov. Chris Christie includes nothing for nicotine prevention.

New Jersey has $4 billion in health care expenses directly caused by smoking but no money is allocated to combat tobacco use in the state’s 2016 budget although $186.8 million was estimated to have been spent in the state on tobacco company marketing in 2012.

Almost 16 percent of adults in New Jersey are smokers and nearly 12,000 deaths result from smoking in the Garden State each year, but this is worst in the nation for state spending on tobacco prevention.

Nicotine, the drug in tobacco, is highly addictive, while tar and other substances consumed when the product is smoked have been conclusively shown to cause cancer and equally devastating diseases.

New Jersey decided to bail out some of its tobacco debt in an arrangement that helped one investor cash in even though the state was under no obligation to rescue the bonds.

Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff traded away an estimated $400 million in future tobacco revenues that would have flowed into New Jersey coffers starting in 2017 in order to make good on two bond issues that were headed for default because it allowed the Christie administration to patch a $92 million budget hole.

“Kids are still taking up smoking and we’re still losing lives,” said Marc Kaplan, communications director of American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network eastern division. “We’re thinking about the families who see their relatives lose their lives or suffer from smoking.”

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a national non-profit organization, released its annual Broken Promises to Our Children report Tuesday. The report looked at each state’s 2016 fiscal year budgets and projected state revenue from tobacco sales tax and 1998 tobacco settlement.

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an amount that each state should put toward tobacco prevention efforts. For New Jersey, that recommendation was $103.3 million.

The state has allocated zero dollars for such efforts in the 2016 budget. Estimated state tobacco revenue from the tobacco settlement and state taxes is $921 million.

“The fact that New Jersey isn’t spending one penny in tobacco control and prevention is tragic,” Kaplan said. “One reason why we’re involved with this report is so our leaders can see this—hard and cold facts that are showing this.”

New Jersey Department of Health spokesperson Donna Leusner says there are still programs funded by the federal government that prevent or stop smoking.

They include the toll free NJ Quitline that offers gum and patches, Tobacco Age of Sale program, and Mom’s Quit Connection, which links pregnant women and new mothers with quit smoking specialists.

“The Department of Health strongly encourages everyone to quit smoking and there are many ways to do that including medication, patches, gum and counseling,” said Leusner.

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