Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., killing more than 400,000 people and costing $96 billion in health care bills each year.

When it comes to state funding for tobacco prevention programs, Pennsylvania is one of a number of states that needs to gets its house in order. According to a national report released by a coalition of public health organizations, the commonwealth ranks 27th in the nation in funding programs to prevent children from smoking and help smokers quit.

A successful anti-campaign is certainly warranted. In Pennsylvania, 18.4 percent of high school students smoke, and 17,300 more children become regular smokers each year. Tobacco annually claims 20,000 lives and costs the state $5.2 billion in health care bills.

The state currently spends $13.9 million a year on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, which is 9 percent of the $155.5 million recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The tobacco companies, meanwhile, spend $452.8 million a year to market their products in our state.

The report shows that this year the state will collect $1.5 billion in revenue from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but it will spend just 0.9 percent of it on tobacco prevention programs. This translates to less than a penny of every dollar in tobacco revenue being spent to fight tobacco use.

The Keystone state has cut funding for tobacco prevention by 57 percent, from $32.1 million to $13.9 million, over the last 12 years. The tobacco companies spend $452.8 million a year to market their products in Pennsylvania.

Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, calls Pennsylvania one of the most disappointing states when it comes to funding programs to protect kids from tobacco. He said the state must increase funding for tobacco prevention if it hopes to reduce tobacco use. He says that even in these difficult budget times, tobacco prevention is a smart investment that saves lives and saves money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs.

Pennsylvania isn't alone in its failure to adequately fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs. This state is not alone in woefully dropping the ball. This year the states will collect $25.6 billion from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend just 1.8 percent of it - $456.7 million - on tobacco prevention programs. This amounts to less than two cents of every dollar in tobacco revenue to fight tobacco use.

Only two states – Alaska and North Dakota – currently fund tobacco prevention programs at the CDC-recommended level.

There has been progress made among both youth and adults on the national front, but 19.3 percent of adults and 19.5 percent of high school students still smoke.

More information, including the full report and state-specific information, can be obtained at www.tobaccofreekids.org/reports/settlements.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com