State Defends Use of Anti-Tobacco Money

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A new national report says Vermont is not spending enough on smoking prevention programs.

But the state Health Department says Vermont is doing a good job and that the proof is that fewer young people are smoking.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

The campaign for Tobacco Free Kids is a Washington-based non profit group that works to stop children from getting hooked on tobacco products.

The campaign recently studied how states spend the tens of millions of dollars they received in a 1998 settlement of tobacco lawsuits.

Vermont got $57 million under the settlement. Last year, $17 million went to Medicaid and other state health programs. Another $1.1 million helps fund the alcohol and drug abuse office. And each year, $5.5 million goes to anti-tobacco efforts.

The campaign says Vermont should pump even more money into programs that are aimed directly at preventing smoking, or getting people to quit.

But the state Health Department says Vermont spends its money wisely. Karen Garbarino is chief of the tobacco control program.

(Garbarino) “I think we are spending what we need to spend. I say that because I look at results. If you look at youth smoking rates, they’ve decreased significantly over the past couple of years. In 1999, we saw youth smoking rates of 31%. In 2001, that was down to 22%. So that was a significant drop.”

The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says Vermont actually does much better than some states when it comes to anti-smoking plans.

The group ranked Vermont tenth best in the country. Three states have spent nothing so far. And 19 states, including Vermont, are spending at least half of what the Centers for Disease Control recommends.

Garbarino says the CDC also wants states to use the tobacco money to prevent chronic disease. She says Vermont funds these programs, but not out of the tobacco settlement budget.

(Garbarino) “Well, the Health Department does chronic disease prevention and has done that all along. And we don’t count that as money spent toward tobacco. We count that as money being spent on chronic disease. So CDC lumps that in and that’s where they count up with a total that Vermont should be spending between $7 and $15 million.”

Vermont has also set up a Tobacco Trust Fund, so the anti-smoking programs can be self-supporting in the years ahead.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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