Monday, July 16, 2007

Cigarette consumption in WI is on the rise

Cigarette consumption is on the rise in the state of Wisconsin, according to a report issued last week by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. This is a reversal from earlier years when consumption was on the decline. To what can we owe this reversal? Funding cuts. In 2004, Wisconsin's tobacco control program was cut from $21 million to $10 million. The chart below, released with the report, reveals an obvious correlation between funding and cigarette consumption.

As I'm sure you all know by now, last Tuesday the Assembly Republicans voted to gut Wisconsin's efforts to combat our tobacco burden -- a vote that could mean the number of Wisconsin children who smoke will rise and the incidences of tobacco-related diseases will continue to grow, at enormous costs both emotionally and to businesses and taxpayers.

This is really a no-brainer; how can our Legislature expect to reduce the burden of tobacco in Wisconsin (and subsequently our enormous healthcare burden) if it only funds tobacco prevention and control programs at $2.5 million -- just 8.3% of the CDC recommended minimum level of $30 million per year?

Also, when program funding is combined with an increased cigarette tax, we have a great "one-two punch" against tobacco in Wisconsin. These policies belong together. A $1.25 tax increase alone would keep 84,000 WI kids from smoking. Well-funded prevention programs will help that decline stick and continue. Older youth experienced declining smoking rates from 2002 to 2004, when Wisconsin's program was better funded; however, as the chart shows, those declines reversed when funding for those programs was reduced.

This is no joke. The cost of tobacco is real. Smoking-related diseases kill 8,000 people a year in Wisconsin and cost $2 billion to treat. I hope our legislators put the pieces of the puzzle together on this one and do the right thing by restoring the $1.25 cigarette tax increase and fully funding Wisconsin's tobacco control program.

Last week's report shows why it is so important that the Legislature, in conference committee, approve Governor Doyle's plan to increase the state cigarette and tobacco products tax by $1.25 and increase tobacco control program funding to $30 million per year in order to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.

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