Nearly 4,000 West Virginians die each year from illnesses related to using tobacco. It costs Mountain State residents, businesses and government more than $1.8 billion a year to cope with the fallout from smoking and use of chewing tobacco and snuff, according to one estimate. Our state has the second-highest rate of smoking among adults in the nation - and nearly one-fifth of our high school students smoke.
Yet state government reportedly spends less than $6 million a year on tobacco cessation programs.
It is not that we don’t have the money, as a coalition of health organizations noted this week. Between state taxes on tobacco products and the ongoing payments from tobacco companies resulting from a 1998 lawsuit settlement, the state is expected to receive about $231 million this year. Nearly all the money goes for purposes not related to helping Mountain State residents kick the habit - or ensuring they never pick it up.
“Sin taxes” such as those levied on tobacco products are not intended to curb health and social problems related to use of the substances, despite what some politicians may tell you. They are merely one more good way for government to rake in a little more revenue.
And though the whole idea behind the lawsuit West Virginia and many other states filed against tobacco companies was to make them pay for the damage they have done, and for campaigns to curb use of tobacco, only a tiny percentage of the settlement money has been used for the purpose.
Now, as Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislators look for ways to scrimp and save their way into a balanced state budget for the coming year, probably is not the most auspicious time to suggest more of the tobacco-related revenue be retained for cessation programs. In both the short and long runs, however, doing that might well save state government money - and prevent some of the heartache felt by West Virginians who mourn the deaths of people whose lives are claimed by their dependence on tobacco.
— Distributed by The Associated Press