Raiding State Smoking Fund is Shortsighted
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
In 2006, South Dakota voters approved an initiative to increase the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and to dedicate $5 million annually to help smokers quit and prevent kids from starting smoking.
The results of consistent funding have been remarkable. South Dakota's youth smoking has declined from 44 percent in 1999 to 27 percent today, and there still is much work to do to further decrease those numbers. Also, the South Dakota QuitLine, which provides free professional counseling as well as free nicotine withdrawal medication, is a national model of cessation delivery and success for adult tobacco users. These achievements are especially impressive when you consider that the $5 million allocated to the program is a tiny fraction of the $30 million in new revenue the state collects as a result of the increased tax.
But that progress and South Dakota's Tobacco Prevention and Reduction Trust Fund are at risk.
Lawmakers in Pierre are considering removing $1 million to all $5 million from the tobacco-control program to further feed the general fund. This is a move that significantly would damage the state's long-term fiscal and physical health and violate the trust that South Dakota voters placed in the initiative process.
South Dakotans made it clear in 2006. They understood consistent investment in reducing tobacco use would result in consistent returns in dollars and lives saved. After all, tobacco costs the state $274 million each year in health care costs - $58 million coming directly from taxpayers through Medicaid payments - and results in almost 1,000 otherwise avoidable deaths each year.
Therefore, moving anywhere from $1 million to all $5 million from the program to fill a budget deficit, which would be far greater without the people's initial support for the tax increase, is not the right move.
While this could slow some of our state's budget bleeding now, it will not cure the real problems associated with tobacco use. It also ignores the contributions the tax already is making to the general fund.
Our return to fiscal health will depend on long-term programs such as the tobacco cessation and prevention program that reduce costs and improve lives.
On behalf of the South Dakota State Medical Association and the South Dakota Tobacco-Free Kids Network, I urge our lawmakers to preserve the program's full funding and to remember that any short-term financial gain can result in long-term financial and human losses.
Accessed: March 10, 2010