Fifty years after the surgeon general first told Americans that smoking causes disease and death, the American Heart Association and other public health advocacy groups have announced bold new goals to end the tobacco epidemic for good, including reducing adult tobacco use to 10 percent.
As the president-elect of the Vermont board of the American Heart Association, and as a nurse, I support these goals and want to urge the Legislature and administration to restore the tobacco trust fund.
This funding is sorely needed or the tobacco control program will be at risk. The trust fund is nearly empty, and we’ll soon lose $10 million to $14 million in tobacco settlement dollars that Vermont has been receiving annually for its role in the settlement with the tobacco industry.
We need to make a long-term and serious commitment to reduce tobacco use in Vermont — providing help for smokers to quit and messaging that will prevent kids from ever taking up the deadly habit. Reinvesting in the tobacco trust fund will help meet the goal of legislators who created the fund in 1999 to ensure we could fight tobacco for years to come.
With smoking costing $233 million in health care spending each year — $72 million of which is Medicaid expenditures directly related to smoking — developing a long-term plan to ensure the health of Vermont’s tobacco control program is a must.
I think it’s more than a coincidence that Vermont’s $8 million settlement with R.J. Reynolds for the company’s deceptive advertising of its Eclipse cigarette happened when it did. This money shouldn’t be looked at as gravy to patch budget holes, but instead should be placed in the trust fund to uphold the promise we made to smokers that we would help them quit and provide the resources to do it.