Ohio Voters Support Using Tobacco Settlement Revenue For Tobacco Prevention
Smoking in Ohio
As the Ohio Legislature considers Governor Ted Strickland's proposal to securitize (sell to investors) the state's future tobacco settlement payments, a new poll released today shows that Ohio voters overwhelmingly support using tobacco settlement revenue for programs to prevent kids from starting to smoke and help smokers quit.
Under the Governor's proposal, the state would receive a smaller, immediate lump-sum payment instead of continuing to receive annual settlement payments in the future. But the plan does not provide any new funding for the state's tobacco prevention program and effectively eliminates the possibility of using future settlement payments to pay for tobacco prevention.
The poll found that if the Legislature approves the plan to securitize future settlement payments, 74 percent of Ohio voters support dedicating 15 percent of the revenue to tobacco prevention programs to pay back funds the state previously diverted from the program and sustain the program for years to come. Support for tobacco prevention funding comes from a broad-based coalition of voters across the state, spanning all ages, regions and political affiliations.
Other key findings in the poll include:
-- Nearly nine out of ten Ohio voters (87 percent) said that the state should spend at least one-quarter of its tobacco settlement funds on programs to reduce tobacco use.
-- 73 percent of voters disapprove of the diversion in recent years of more than $560 million in tobacco settlement revenue that was intended for tobacco prevention programs.
-- Even after voters are reminded of the state's budget problems and need to fund school construction, tax cuts and other state programs, more than two-thirds (70 percent) agree with the need to restore funds to the tobacco prevention program.
"This poll shows us that the vast majority of Ohioans support keeping the promise of the tobacco settlement by restoring funding for Ohio's nationally recognized tobacco prevention programs. Ohio voters agree that Ohio's tobacco settlement money should be used as intended to fund programs that prevent kids from starting to smoke and help smokers quit," said William V. Corr, Executive Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "If Ohio fails to keep this promise, the consequences will be dire -- more kids will start to smoke, more lives will be lost and taxpayers will foot the bill for higher tobacco-caused health care costs. "
Pollster Neil Newhouse, Partner and Co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies says of the findings, "This data demonstrates that lawmakers who oppose using any of the tobacco settlement revenue for tobacco prevention do so at their political peril. This poll clearly shows that when it comes to tobacco settlement revenue, Ohio voters see the link between the revenue source and what it's used to fund. Voters in every age category and region of the state, and from every political affiliation, feel strongly that tobacco revenue should be used to fund tobacco prevention programs. The message from voters to legislators is clear -- protecting Ohio kids from tobacco is a priority and any plan to allocate the tobacco settlement revenue must include repaying funds previously diverted from tobacco prevention."
"The Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation has earned the strong support of Ohio's leaders and should have its funding restored and sustained in light of the program's dramatic success in reducing both youth and adult smoking," said Stephen S. Francis, American Heart Association Volunteer and Former Board Member. "As other states have demonstrated, progress in reducing smoking can quickly stop and even reverse when tobacco prevention funding is cut. Our state's leaders should take a stand for our kids and restore funding for tobacco prevention."
The survey of 500 registered Ohio voters was released today by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Society of Ohio, the American Heart Association of Ohio and the American Lung Association of Ohio. It was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies.
The nationally recognized tobacco prevention programs run by the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation (OTPF) have helped reduce smoking by 39 percent among high school students and by 52 percent among middle school students between 2000 and 2006. Adult smoking rates have declined as well, to 22.3 percent in 2006 compared to 27.6 percent in 2001.
Ohio's tobacco prevention programs were created with tobacco settlement funds placed in an endowment in fiscal years 2000 and 2001. However, the portion of the state's annual tobacco settlement payment intended for the endowment have been diverted since 2001, with a total of $568 million diverted to date.
In the coming year, Ohio will collect a record $1.3 billion from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but none of it is currently allocated to tobacco prevention efforts. Unless the Legislature restores the diverted funds, OTPF will run out of money entirely within a decade.
Despite progress made in reducing smoking, tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death in Ohio, claiming more than 18,600 lives each year and directly costing the state $4.4 billion annually in health care bills, including $1.4 billion in Medicaid payments alone. Smoking-caused government expenditures amount to a hidden tax of $642 per Ohio household. Currently, 20.5 percent of Ohio high school students smoke, and 18,700 more kids become regular smokers every year.