A new report from a group of anti-smoking organizations tells us that states are using tobacco settlement funds for everything but campaigns to prevent smoking and Virginia is one of the chief offenders.
The Commonwealth ranks 31st among the 50 states in expenditures of available funds from the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies to help right old wrongs. Virginia spends $8.4 million of the $103.2 million recommended (and made available), according to the Center for Disease Control.
Only Alaska spends its total allotment (and it goes up to 101 percent), but the dropoff is quick after that to 88 percent, then to 64 percent and down, down, down.
This is important because most of the advertising aimed at smokers was pointed toward children and it has been dramatically effective when fully funded, according to a story in the NYTimes this morning. The story says states are on track to spend 2 percent of the 25.2 billion dollars allocated by the states for tobacco cessation (federal dollars are not counted in the study). States are to get the money for 25 years.
According to a study on Virginia's use of the funds (here), economic development is a huge focus for the money. Much of that money went into public construction, workforce development, business development and expansion and the state's general fund. Tobacco farmers--initially a target for the money because they were losing their livelihood--and smoking prevention get tiny fractions of the overall funding. The Virginia study reports, "Often, the money helped existing businesses to acquire capital equipment or financed improvements to business parks and municipal infrastructure to attract new businesses. Targeted industries included biotechnology, manufacturing, and tourism."
Between 2000 and 2004, 40 percent of tobacco payments to Virginia went into the general fund, according to the Virginia study.
This tobacco settlement has been a sore spot with me for years because it involves a blatant disregard for public health. Tobacco kills 400,000 Americans a year and is the No. 1 preventable disease in the country. A campaign to change that was working, but state economics suddenly pushed aside this vital investment in order to solve problems that could have been solved in other ways. This was simply more convenient.