Oklahoma ranks 41st in using tobacco settlement money for prevention programs

Tuesday, January 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma ranks among the bottom 10 states in the country in using money from a 1998 tobacco settlement for anti-smoking programs aimed at kids, according to a report released Tuesday.

The state spends just 7.9 percent of the minimum amount recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

``Oklahoma's leaders have let down the state's kids and taxpayers,'' said William V. Corr, executive vice president of the campaign.

The state has spent $1.73 million on tobacco prevention programs. The CDC recommended it spend at least $21.83 million.

``Unless Oklahoma acts quickly to increase funding for tobacco prevention, the state will pay a high price,'' Corr said. ``More kids will become addicted to tobacco, more lives will be lost and taxpayers will pay more to treat tobacco-caused disease.''

The national report sponsored by a coalition of public health organizations said Oklahoma ranks 41st in terms of using the settlement money for prevention programs. It found that only five states _ Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Minnesota _ are funding prevention programs at the minimum level.

The majority of states are funding the programs at less than half the recommended minimum.

The tobacco settlement will provide states with $246 billion during the next 25 years. The CDC recommends that states spend 20 to 25 percent of the money to protect kids from tobacco.

Oklahoma received $64.1 million in tobacco settlement money in 2001. Of that, the Legislature appropriated $1.7 million for anti-smoking programs.

State voters set up a trust fund in 2000 that collects half of the tobacco settlement money each year, increasing by 5 percent annually until the amount reaches 75 percent in 2007. The fund was created by a constitutional amendment.

A board of directors can spend only the interest accrued by the trust fund, dolling out the money for tobacco-prevention and other health care programs.

The fund is expected to generate about $1 million in interest this year and much more than that annually after about 10 years, said board chairman Dr. Robert McCaffree.

``What Oklahoma does have is a tool that no other state has _ that is a constitutional trust fund,'' he said. ``In the next decade, we're going to see some significant advantages.''

In the short term, McCaffree said, the state could use a proposed $1-per-pack cigarette tax to fund prevention programs.

The board plans to ask for prevention program proposals during the next few months and start distributing money for the programs by the end of the year, he said.

In Oklahoma, 33 percent of high school students smoke and 9,800 kids become daily smokers every year, the report said.

Smoking-related health care costs Oklahoma taxpayers $693 million per year, it said.

The report, ``Show Us The Money: An Update on the States' Allocation of the Tobacco Settlement Dollars,'' was sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association.