Due to recent budget reductions, the Alabama Department of Public Health is trimming funding for anti-tobacco programs from the $880,000 allocated in 2012 to $600,000 for the 2013 fiscal year.
To put this in perspective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Alabama would need to spend $56 million a year on tobacco prevention (based on the size of the state’s population) in order to have a meaningful impact on the rate that Alabamians use tobacco. The state Legislature is recommending $600,000.
The state’s anti-tobacco programs were in bad shape even before these new cuts. Were it not for $3 million in federal funds, efforts to stop Alabamians — especially young Alabamians — from starting to smoke, and programs to encourage smokers to quit, would have stopped altogether. With the proposed cuts looming, many local agencies are now cutting back on what they have been doing.
Because Alabama has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the nation, the state Legislature could raise that tax to the national average and there would be more than enough to fund the programs being cut — and maybe start new ones.
However, the anti-tax crowd that controls the Legislature has shown no inclination to raise taxes even if there is a clear need for more revenue. The fact that higher tobacco prices discourage young people from picking up the habit also seems to have made little difference to those we have sent to Montgomery. If legislators would not raise tobacco taxes to help fund Medicaid, what chance will a tax increase to discourage smoking and fund anti-tobacco programs have?
The Legislature could also pass a clean air bill to limit smoking, but some businesses oppose this because of enforcement issues. Far be it for the Legislature to put health issues ahead of business concerns.
Although the governor and legislative leaders boast of how they are saving money, they aren’t. Smoking annually costs the United States $96 billion in direct medical expenses and $97 billion in lost productivity. You can bet Alabama pays its share of these costs.
It comes down to the fact that Alabama’s leaders are willing to endanger the health of the state’s residents — while costing the state millions in medical expenses and lost productivity — rather than raise sales taxes on the very item that causes the problems in the first place.