In 2000, the Washington legislature allocated $100 million out of the first Master Settlement payment of $320 million to tobacco control and the comprehensive tobacco control program. The program was launched late that same year with an annual budget of $15 million. Washington emerged as a national leader in tobacco prevention with a robust, comprehensive tobacco prevention program. Sadly, today we lead with different headlines as Washington has one of the lowest funding levels for these programs in the country AND tobacco use remains Washington’s number one cause of preventable death.
How did we get here? Washington once had a proven-effective tobacco prevention program shown to save $5 in healthcare costs for every $1 invested. During the economic downturn in 2008, public officials had to make tough decisions and chose to divert almost all of the program’s funding to the general fund. Since then, these community-based prevention programs have been unable to provide critical services and it has been an uphill battle to restore funding for them. In 2014, the state invested $1 million in the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, which was the first investment we had seen in years. While we knew it wasn’t enough, we were happy to see something allocated for these vital programs. We had hoped that would be the first step in restoring funding to adequate levels but that has not come to be. We will continue to work for increases in funding during the 2022 legislative session.
One meaningful way to increase funding for prevention and cessation programs is to regulate e-cigarette/vape devices the same way that traditional tobacco is treated, particularly in how these products are taxed. In 2019, Washington passed an e-cigarette tax preferred by the tobacco industry and not one designed to address increased use of e-cigarettes in our communities, especially among young people. In 2022, we will be supporting legislation to reform the e-cigarette/vapor tax to be at parity with other tobacco products in the market. We also will advocate for portions of the vapor tax revenue to be dedicated to the tobacco prevention and cessation programs across Washington State.
You may wonder just how bad is the problem of new tobacco addiction in our state? Well, it’s pretty bad and is getting worse: the most recent data tells us that 21.2% of high schoolers use e-cigarettes on a regular basis, much higher than the percentage who use traditional tobacco (5%). Just as we were making progress against the use of traditional tobacco, e-cigarettes have successfully tapped into the youth market with enticing flavors like gummy bear and cotton candy. If we don’t do something we will continue to see the numbers of new-users rise, which is why it is crucial we counter these trends by properly funding community-based prevention programs and low-barrier cessation support services.
hero_image_alt_text===A package of cigarettes with money rolled up inside.
thumbnail_alt_text===A package of cigarettes with money rolled up inside.