Tennessee health officials say they’re making anti-smoking initiatives their top priority next year. That’s because the state ranks basically dead last in spending on smoking prevention, and it shows in the state’s overall health.
For the last couple of years, the proposed budget that comes out of the governor’s office had money to market the state’s smoking-cessation hotline and for ad campaigns to keep kids from picking up smoking and to push mothers to stop for the sake of their children. But none of the money made it in the final budget.
That’s a concern for some public health officials.
“I want to make note that we are currently one of the only states without recurring state funding for tobacco prevention,” Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey told legislators at a recent budget hearing.
Piercey is asking for $4 million, with half of the money going to local governments. And she wants it guaranteed each year.
In recent years, funding has come in bursts, with $15 million in 2013 to be spent through 2017, then $5 million for the next year. But according to analysis by the Sycamore Institute, the final appropriations bill in the legislature removed $4 million proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam in 2018. And Gov. Bill Lee’s administration removed $2 million this year, with little public attention, in the final amendment approved by the legislature.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends Tennessee spending more like $75 million a year to counter tobacco marketing. The state receives more than twice that figure annually from the big tobacco companies. Since 1998, Tennessee has taken in more than $1 billion dollars from the the multi-state settlement.
While many states dedicate part of the funding to anti-smoking efforts, Tennessee just puts it in the general fund. Piercey notes that the states that spend more have seen steeper drops in smoking. Meanwhile, Tennessee ranks 47th in nicotine dependence.
“We’ve used this as the basis of our rationale of where we would like to focus our efforts for the coming year,” Piercey said.