Missouri nearly worst among the states in failure to prevent smoking

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Missouri is spending only $70,778 on tobacco prevention efforts this year, one-tenth of 1 percent of the recommended amount by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state’s pathetic outlay is swamped by the $329 million that tobacco companies budget to market their products in the state.

There’s more. Missouri’s arrogant and foolish refusal to invest in prevention has earned the state a ranking of 50th among the states and District of Columbia in a report released this month by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. It grades states on the percentage of money spent on smoking prevention versus the amount recommended by the CDC. Only New Jersey, which is spending zero dollars on prevention, scored lower.

Missouri collects about $130 million a year from a legal settlement with tobacco manufacturers. Under the spirit of an agreement negotiated between states and tobacco companies 16 years ago, it should be using a healthy share of that money to discourage people from smoking or help them to quit. But Gov. Jay Nixon and the legislature have chosen to spend almost none of it for that purpose.

As a result of leaders’ shortsighted thinking and Missouri’s refusal to raise its cigarette tax from the nation’s lowest mark of 17 cents a pack, 22.1 percent of adults in the state are smokers. That’s much higher than the 18.1 percent national average. Smoking is a factor in about 11,000 deaths a year, and every household pays $588 to cover the medical bills for smoking-related illnesses.

Kansas looks better in comparison, but only because Missouri is so bad. Kansas has budgeted $946,671 this fiscal year for tobacco prevention efforts, according to the report. But that’s only 3.4 percent of what the CDC recommends, earning Kansas a rank of 41st among the 50 states and District of Columbia. And the state’s enormous budget gap bodes poorly for maintaining even that undistinguished place.

Tobacco companies spend $75 on marketing for every dollar Kansas spends on prevention — a total of $71 million. Twenty percent of adults in the state smoke, and health-related expenses cost each household $570 annually.

To be sure, few states heed the CDC recommendations. And nationwide, tobacco companies spend $18 to market their products for every $1 that states spend on prevention.

But Missouri is especially egregious. Sixteen years ago, it joined other states in litigation to recoup some of the high cost of treating smoking-related illnesses. Its failure now to spend more than a pittance of that money to keep people healthy is incomprehensible.