CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia is again at the bottom of the list, No. 49 nationally, for state money spent on tobacco prevention and cessation programs 20 years after the landmark 1998 state tobacco settlement providing funding for efforts to reduce tobacco use.
“The only reason West Virginia is 49th is because it’s tied for last with two other states,” said John Schachter, director of state communications for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Joining West Virginia with that last place designation were Connecticut and Tennessee in a report released this week called “Broken Promises to Our Children: A State-by-State Look at the 1998 Tobacco Settlement 20 Years Later.”
This year, the report showed states together were due to collect $27.3 billion in revenues from the 1998 tobacco settlement with the four largest U.S. tobacco companies and tobacco taxes, but would only spend 2.4 percent of that amount, $655 million, on prevention and cessation programs.
In West Virginia, the tobacco industry annually drops an estimated $125 million on marketing, according to the report.
“That’s $125 million being unanswered by the state with no prevention programs,” said Schachter who called it “unconscionable.”
State cessation and prevention funding for the Division of Tobacco Prevention was eliminated ahead of the start of the 2018 fiscal year.
“We know in a state like West Virginia with an incredibly high youth smoking rate and the highest smoking rate among adults to be spending nothing on tobacco prevention and cessation and just embarrassing and can’t continue,” Schachter said.
Nationally, the smoking rate is down to 14 percent — a low in the past two decades.
West Virginia has the highest adult smoking rate at 26 percent, while more than 14 percent of high school students smoke.
Aditi Venkatesh, an anti-tobacco youth advocate, said cigarettes were not the only issue for young people.
“You should be aware about e-cigarettes and Juuls and the harmful effects that these products can cause on their bodies and also how the tobacco industry is marketing towards them,” she told MetroNews.
“There are over 15,000 different flavors of e-cigarettes from mango, mint, cotton candy to gummy bear and they’re clearly targeting kids.”
Every year, 4,300 West Virginians die due to smoking.
In addition to additional prevention spending, Schachter said lawmakers should take steps during the 2019 Regular Legislative Session to increase the cigarette tax, raise the tobacco use age to 21 and pass comprehensive smoke-free laws.
“Policymakers at all levels need to take action. It’s too important not to,” Schachter said.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was just one of the organizations that released the “Broken Promises report.
Others were the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights and Truth Initiative.
No state currently funds tobacco prevention programs at recommended levels from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recommended spending level for West Virginia is $27.4 million.