Once among the nation’s leaders for anti-smoking campaigns for youth and teens, Mississippi now ranks 27th among states that spend money on tobacco prevention, a new report says.
The report released Wednesday also found that tobacco companies spend $183 million a year on marketing in Mississippi, almost 23 times the state funding for tobacco prevention.
State Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson said there’s been some decline in youth tobacco use rates in the state, but there’s a “great deal of competition from the tobacco industry so that’s an uphill battle.”
Overall, states this year have increased total funding for tobacco prevention programs by 20 percent to $717 million, the report said.
Maine, Delaware and Colorado were the only three states that funded tobacco prevention programs at minimum levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the report said.
Issued by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society, the report called for the implementation of tobacco control measures. Those included prevention programs, higher tobacco taxes and smoke-free workplace laws.
Mississippi ranked last in the nation in 2006, but moved up after Gov. Haley Barbour approved $8 million for a state-funded tobacco prevention program within the Department of Health during this year’s legislative session.
The bottom ranking resulted from the court-ordered termination of $20 million in annual funding for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, a private, nonprofit headed by former Mississippi attorney general Mike Moore.
The Partnership’s money had come from the state’s settlement with the tobacco industry in the 1990s. Barbour successfully sued to cut off the Partnership’s money, saying only the Legislature has the authority to decide how that money should be spent.
William V. Corr, executive director of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement that Mississippi “has a long way to go in re-establishing an effective program.”
It’s been 10 years since a landmark multistate settlement with the tobacco industry. Moore filed the first such lawsuit against the cigarette makers, forcing them to cover medical costs of people who became sick from their products. The nationwide settlement came soon after, but states weren’t required to create tobacco prevention programs.
With Moore at its helm, the Partnership set a standard for anti-tobacco programming, using catchy advertisements, churches, community coalitions, and school nurses to warn teens about the dangers of smoking. Mississippi’s teen smoking rate was 22.4 percent in 2004, and fell to 18.7 percent by 2006.
Thompson said the new state-funded program is still being developed and Moore is chairman of its advisory council.
“Certainly use of media is going to be one of the elements that they’ll consider and place into the mix,” said Thompson.
As far as increasing funding for tobacco prevention, lawmakers are reluctant to make any promises. Mississippi’s economic forecast shows slow growth, and lawmakers have predicted budget cuts for next year.
“Increasing funding for tobacco prevention is a very worthwhile project and it merits consideration,” said Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee. “But it’s far too early to make any commitments about what will or won’t be funded.”