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Despite nearly $1B in tobacco funds, NJ will spend zero on prevention programs

New Jersey ranks dead last for the money it devotes to tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

According to a new report from several anti-smoking and health advocacy groups, the Garden State is spending nothing on these programs out of the $944.5 million it will receive this fiscal year from taxes on tobacco products and the 1998 tobacco settlement. Connecticut is the only other state that spends absolutely no tobacco-related revenue on anti-smoking causes.

The report finds 13.5 percent of New Jersey adults smoke, and 8.2 percent of high school students. Smoking causes 11,800 deaths per year in the state, the report said.

“Failure to fund tobacco prevention programs is not only bad health policy, it’s bad fiscal policy,” said Vince Willmore with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, one of the organizations that issued the report. “Because tobacco use costs New Jersey over $4 billion a year in health care bills.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that New Jersey spend more than $103 million a year on tobacco prevention.

“That leaves plenty for other purposes,” Willmore said.

The state does use more than $2.2 million in federal funds on services related to prevention and quitting programs, such as NJ Quitline (1-866-657-8677).

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, the state’s adult smoking rate has declined significantly since 1990, and both the adult and youth smoking rates are below national averages.

“The Department of Health strongly encourages everyone to quit smoking and there are many ways to do that including medication, patches, gum and counseling available through employer-sponsored health benefits – including Medicaid, the State Health Benefits Plan and NJ FamilyCare,” a department spokeswoman said.

Approved by the full New Jersey Assembly in November, and referred to a Senate committee, is a measure that would dedicate 1 percent of tobacco tax revenues to anti-smoking initiatives. The proposal originally called for a 5 percent share but was scaled back.

In January, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a measure that would have banned the sale of tobacco and vaping products to anyone under the age of 21. Willmore said he hopes to see the bill advance again with a different outcome.

It was passed by the Senate in May but hasn’t seen action in the Assembly.

Nationwide, the report said, states will collect $26.6 billion in tobacco-related revenue. Less than 2 percent of it will be spent on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.

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