Rate of Smoking in the United States Down; So is Use of Settlement Funds

According to the CDC, the U.S. adult smoking rate has fallen below 20 percent (to 19.8 percent) for the first time since the federal government began tracking it in the 1960s. 

In 1965, a year after the U.S. Surgeon General issued a landmark report about the health dangers of tobacco, the smoking rate was over 40 percent. It took two decades of health education and government action to bring the rate below 30 percent.  The drop in the adult smoking rate to 19.8 percent is the first significant decrease — 1 percentage point — since 2004.  The CDC has set a target of 12 percent for adult smoking by 2010, which it appears to be unlikely to meet.

Although there are many reasons for the decline, one reason that should not be added to the list is efficient use of the Master Settlement Agreement by the states.  (To read a description of the Master Settlement Agreement, which went into effect ten years ago, click here). 

NPR is reporting that of the $246 billion given to the states to prevent smoking in exchange for dropping their individual lawsuits against the tobacco companies, less than 5 percent of the tobacco money has gone for tobacco prevention. 

Although Washington State has used its money to effectively promote tobacco cessation (perhaps because Washington’s Gov. Christine Gregoire is a former state attorney general and was a lead negotiator in the settlement), most states have not. 

Connecticut doesn’t spend any of its settlement proceeds on tobacco control.   Nearly half the states, including New Jersey and California, opted for a lump sum, rather than future payments, which they used to pay down debt or balance budgets.  Other states, such as Ohio, once had strong programs but cut them more recently.

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