Every day in Washington, 40 children smoke their first cigarette. Imagine if one of them was your child. Studies indicate 90 percent of adult smokers begin their tobacco addiction before age 21.
Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing roughly 7,600 Washingtonians yearly and costing our state economy $2.8 billion annually for health care. It also costs the state economy $2.2 billion annually in lost worker productivity.
Despite these facts, the Washington state Department of Health’s draft plan for distribution of marijuana taxes proposes to allocate a mere $1 million in 2016 for tobacco prevention out of a total of $7.25 million collected from marijuana sales.
That is not enough to prevent future smokers from a deadly addiction. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends $63.6 million yearly for Washington’s tobacco control efforts.
With the marijuana sales revenue, the state Legislature allocated $14.5 million for the next two years — with the first $7.25 million to be used in 2016 — for tobacco and marijuana education and prevention. One million dollars from those funds won’t stop Washington’s youths from lighting up their first cigarette.
There’s also a meager $1.28 million dedicated to the Youth Tobacco Prevention Account mainly for enforcement of existing laws aimed at preventing youths from accessing tobacco products. Even with the Department of Health’s new proposed contribution, our state is woefully short of the CDC recommendations.
The biggest step we can take to reduce cancer in Washington is to decrease tobacco use. That’s why the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network advocates for a tobacco-control approach that includes state funding consistent with CDC recommendations. We know that comprehensive, well-funded tobacco-control programs prevent youths from this deadly addiction and support cessation for current users.
The Surgeon General’s 2014 report, “The Health Consequences of Smoking — 50 Years of Progress,” states that if tobacco trends continue, 5.6 million youths under age 17 will die prematurely if they continue smoking into adulthood. While youths smoking rates have decreased, a new population of teens will always need education about the dangers of tobacco.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, tobacco companies spend $92.9 million marketing their products in Washington. That’s more than 9,000 times what the state proposes to spend next year on prevention.
Tobacco use claims the lives of nearly half a million Americans each year. That’s roughly the combined population of Tacoma, Everett, Bellingham and Yakima.
We need the Department of Health to significantly increase funding for tobacco prevention and smoking cessation. Please protect future generations from an early death because of tobacco. We can’t lose sight of the stark fact that tobacco kills.
Mary McHale is the Washington government relations director for the nonprofit, nonpartisan American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. She lives in Seattle with her daughter.