January 6, 2005
Jefferson City, Mo. — To help reduce one of the highest teen smoking rates in the country, state Sen. Yvonne Wilson, of Kansas City, has introduced a bill to fund anti-tobacco efforts aimed at youth. The effort would be established and funded with approximately $7 million the state of Missouri is receiving annually from smaller tobacco companies that recently joined the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between tobacco manufacturers and 46 states.
Attorney General Jay Nixon, who first proposed the idea of funding youth anti-smoking efforts with new tobacco money in November, supports Wilson's bill (SB 152) and says a coordinated, well-funded initiative is sorely needed in Missouri.
“The tobacco companies have paid more than $822 million to the state of Missouri as part of the settlement,” Nixon says. “Yet we remain without a significant, coordinated youth smoking prevention program because not one dollar of the settlement has been spent to keep young people from smoking.”
Statistics from health authorities show that the percentage of Missouri high school students who smoke (30.3 percent) is higher than the percentage of Missouri adults who smoke (26.6 percent). Missouri's smoking rate is the third highest in the nation, according to the Missouri Partnership on Smoking or Health.
“This new tobacco money gives us the opportunity and the means to implement effective programs to reduce youth smoking, such as we've seen in other states,” Wilson says. “The choice is clear — we can dedicate these resources now to stop teens from smoking, or we can spend many millions more later to treat the health care problems smoking will cause our young people when they get older.”
Under the legislation, the General Assembly would create a commission to select appropriate programs designed to reduce youth smoking. The Commission for Youth Smoking Prevention would include the directors of the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the Department of Health and Senior Services; the Attorney General; representatives of the Missouri House of Representatives and the Missouri Senate; and representatives of non-profit health organizations and doctors and nurses organizations.
Nixon says Missouri will be able to look programs that have succeeded in other states to reduce teen smoking rates. A program started in Florida in 1998 has reduced smoking rates by 50 percent among middle school students and by 35 percent among high school students.
Similarly, a program in New York City aimed at students in grades four through nine emphasizes parental involvement, dietary behavior and physical fitness. The New York program is credited with reducing smoking among ninth-graders by 73 percent.
“There are programs that have demonstrated their success and have significant data to back it up,” Nixon says. “If we care enough about our kids, we will commit the necessary resources — which are available — to turning around Missouri's poor record on youth smoking prevention.”
Several statewide health organizations have voiced their support for funding coordinated youth anti-smoking efforts in Missouri, including the American Cancer Society; the American Heart Association, MO Heartland Affiliate; the American Lung Association of Missouri; and the Missouri State Medical Association.
Approximately 40 smaller tobacco companies have joined the Master Settlement Agreement since 1998. Many have joined as Nixon has aggressively pursued litigation to enforce a state law requiring non-participating manufacturers to pay into a liability escrow fund.