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Boston and Beyond

January 27, 2013

Anti-smoking program funds diverted

Millions of dollars originally intended for smoking cessation programs in Massachusetts have been diverted to offset budget deficits, leaving the state struggling to fund quit-smoking hotlines, treatment programs and anti-tobacco advertising, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

The cutback in smoking cessation programs comes at a time when more than 9,000 Massachusetts residents die annually from smoking-related diseases and yearly health care costs associated with treating tobacco-related illnesses in the state have risen to $3.9 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Nationally, those numbers are even more staggering. Annual smoking-related deaths top 400,000 and annual health care expenditures reach beyond $96 billion.

“Roughly 99 percent of all the tobacco dollars that come into the state are used for something else,” said Stephen Shestakofsky, recently retired executive director of Tobacco Free Massachusetts, an anti-tobacco advocacy group. He was referring to the nearly $254 million in tobacco-related legal awards given to Massachusetts in 2012. More than $561 million in tobacco taxes was also collected, bringing the state’s total tobacco tally to just over $815 million, the CDC reports.

Of that $815 million in tobacco money, only about $4.2 million will be spent in 2013 on smoking cessation and prevention programs in Massachusetts, state health officials said. Since there is no requirement to spend either revenue from the state’s tobacco taxes or the millions awarded annually as part of a 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement between 46 states and four of the nation’s largest tobacco companies, the remaining funds will go into the state’s general fund to pay for other cash-strapped programs, often unrelated to smoking.

Most of the other states involved in that tobacco settlement also use that annual windfall to fund programs unrelated to smoking, anti-tobacco groups said.

With Massachusetts spending just $4.2 million – or 4.6 percent of the $90 million the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention says is needed to fully fund cessation and prevention efforts in Massachusetts – the state’s anti-tobacco program is woefully cash-strapped.

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