John Schacter, director of state communications for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says Nebraska initially used most of its yearly allotment from the landmark lawsuit to help smokers quit and to keep youth from starting, but no more.
“Nebraska is collecting just over $100-million from the tobacco settlement and its tobacco taxes but is spending only $2.6-million on its tobacco prevention and cessation programs,” Schacter says. “Unfortunately, that’s only about 12% of what the CDC recommends the state spend.”
Twenty years ago, tobacco companies agreed to pay states annually to cover some of the medical costs states bear for tobacco-related illnesses among Medicaid patients. Schacter says Nebraska is under no legal obligation to spend those millions of dollars on anti-smoking efforts.
“When the settlement was reached in 1998, I think it was more assumed that, of course, states will spend some of this money on tobacco prevention,” Schacter says. “That’s what the money is for. It came from an industry that spent decades lying and deceiving people and getting them addicted, costing lives and billions of dollars. Unfortunately, as time has gone on, more and more states are just putting the money into the general revenue fund and spending it on other things.”
Smoking prevention and cessation programs are proven to work nationwide and in other states, Schacter says, and Nebraska is shortchanging itself by not investing more heavily in them.
“States should just provide enough to fulfill the recommendations of the CDC and if states do that, we’ll be in great shape,” Schacter says. “Unfortunately, nationally, states are providing less than 3% of what the CDC recommends. Meanwhile, we’re up against big tobacco and they’re spending more than $1-million every hour marketing their products.”
Lung cancer is Nebraska’s top cancer killer. There were more than 1,200 new lung cancer cases diagnosed in Nebraska last year and nearly 900 deaths.