Connecticut ranks second to last in the nation in state funding to prevent tobacco usage, primarily among minors, according to a recent study by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Jerold Mande, associate director for policy at the Yale Cancer Center, said the Centers for Disease Control recommended a $21.24 million state budget for comprehensive tobacco control, but Connecticut spends only $40,000.
“Connecticut should be embarrassed by how wealthy a state we are and yet we rank so low in terms of prevention spending,” Mande said.
One in five New Haven ninth graders reported that they smoke in a recent survey conducted by Dr. Mary Schwab-Stone, an associate professor of child psychiatry and psychology at the Yale Child Study Center. Of the city’s sixth-graders, 5 percent said they smoke, though by the time this population reached eighth grade, the number had jumped to 14 percent.
Moreover, the study showed that 10 to 20 percent of participants said they did not believe smoking is harmful to young people.
“While the number of students who smoke is in itself of concern, the rapid increase in smoking during the middle school years and the number who do not view smoking as risky indicate the importance of smoking prevention efforts that address even young middle school students,” Schwab-Stone said.
Dolores M. Garcia-Blocker, principal at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, said the presence of students smoking heavily outside of school is a problem, though she said she cannot estimate any specific numbers or percentages. She said the school does not offer any smoking prevention programs or education in its curriculum, even though smoking is banned on school grounds and the consequences for breaking that regulation are serious.
Mande said Connecticut will see $383.6 million in tobacco revenues this year, both from the state’s high tobacco tax as well as money received from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. As part of the Agreement, tobacco companies said they would make payments to all states in perpetuity to help cover the higher costs of health care in their states resulting from smoking-related diseases. The settlement stipulates that the money can be used for anything in the state’s budget, though most states spend at least a portion of it on tobacco prevention.
“It’s disturbing and unacceptable and we have to do something about it, as smoking is the number one leading preventable cause of death,” said Leah Stroman, executive director of the Match Coalition, a Connecticut anti-tobacco advocacy group. “We urge full funding at least at the minimum recommendation of the CDC.”
Despite its lack of spending, Mande said the state should be lauded for two other measures that discourage smoking — the toughest Clean Indoor Air laws in the country and the eighth highest tobacco tax.
But Mande said these two measures, which he said are both proven to pressure smokers into quitting, leave smokers wanting to quit but without a proper program to support them in the process.
“For $5 million the state could put in place a tobacco cessation program that would at least help uninsured and Medicaid people get access to what we know would help them quit,” he said.
Dr. Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin and her colleagues at the Center for Nicotine and Tobacco Research at Yale began a smoking cessation program two and a half years ago in conjunction with certain area public schools. The program provided a monetary reward to participants who quit smoking while also counseling students on behavioral techniques to help them avoid smoking in the future.
The program, paid for by National Institute of Health funding, has thus far had 65 student participants, with a 55 percent quit rate, Krishnan-Sarin said.
According to the Connecticut Department of Health, more than 58,000 students under the age of 18 in the state are cigarette smokers.