Tobacco Politics - Editorial, Dec. 5, 2004
Don't fund anti-smoking programs
PAY NO attention to last week's highly publicized report from an anti-smoking group that ranked New Hampshire dead last in state spending on anti-smoking programs. It is meaningless.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids lambasted New Hampshire for spending none of its share of national tobacco settlement money on anti-smoking programs. "Criminal" is how the group's president described the state's behavior. "When New Hampshire sued the tobacco companies, it said it was doing so to protect its kids."
Well, sort of. New Hampshire sued for two reasons: 1) to protect children from tobacco company advertising geared toward teens, and 2) to recoup money already spent on treating ill smokers. The financial portion of the settlement was always intended to reimburse the state for money previously spent, not to fund future health programs.
"This is compensation for state Medicare funds, and it should go to the general fund and be used to fund the priorities of state government, and certainly education funding is on the list," then-House Speaker Donna Sytek said of the tobacco settlement money in November 1998.
Douglas Barry, president of the American Lung Association's New Hampshire chapter in the fall of 1998, said of the settlement, "It's an economic settlement and not a public health settlement."
The idea that the national tobacco settlement was ever about funding anti-smoking programs is a myth spread by anti-smoking groups.
Another myth spread by anti-smoking groups is that government spending on anti-smoking programs reduces smoking. New Hampshire ranked dead last in state spending on anti-smoking programs this year, but the percentage of Granite Staters who smoke (21.2 percent, according to a Centers for Disease Control survey released last month) is lower than the national average (22.1 percent). According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Maine spent the most on anti-smoking programs. But the CDC reports that 23.6 percent of Mainers smoke -- 1.5 percentage points higher than the national average and 2.4 percentage points higher than New Hampshire.
No one should smoke. It is an unhealthy and addictive habit. But so is eating doughnuts. It should be up to individuals to decide -- without government interference -- whether they want to indulge in dangerous pleasures such as eating fatty foods, riding motorcycles, or smoking.
State government is obliged to allocate its resources only to things government has to do, and make sure that those things produce results. Generally speaking, government-run anti-smoking programs are neither necessary nor effective. So why fund them?