Rates in N.J. on the rise | Cigarettes Blog

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rates in N.J. on the rise

After years of mostly decline, it would appear smoking rates in New Jersey are on the rise, ever so slightly.

In its recently released State of Tobacco Control report for 2010, the American Lung Assocation says the number of adults who smoke in New Jersey rose last year to 15.8 percent. It had been 14.8 percent in the 2009 report. The 2010 report also showed the smoking rate among New Jersey high schoolers rising to 17 percent. It had been 14.3 percent. The data was culled from federal surveys through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that were done in 2009.

Such numbers would seemingly provide reason for the state to expand its anti-smoking and smoking cessation programs. But, because of the $11 billion deficit in the state budget last year, New Jersey slashed its funding for such programs in July from $7.6 million to just $600,000. This despite the state still bringing in about $1 billion in 2010 from taxes on cigarettes and a 1998 legal settlement with the big U.S. tobacco companies, and despite the state having a near total ban on indoor workplace smoking.

In light of all this, those who are passionate about combatting smoking in the Garden State are wondering what will happen to smoking rates in New Jersey in the years to come, as the tobacco companies continue to spend more than $200 million a year to market an expanding line of products here.

They wonder if state funding for effective anti-tobacco programs will ever be restored or, if in next year's budget, it will be wiped out entirely. They wonder if the number of deaths tied directly to smoking in New Jersey -- 11,201 last year -- and the economic cost on our state -- nearly $5.6 billion in 2010 -- will rise. . . .

Even through a recession in which other tax revenues have ebbed for the state, about $700 million or more each year continues to flow into the state Treasury from New Jersey's $2.70-per-pack tax on cigarettes -- the sixth highest cigarette tax in the nation.

There may be legislation on the books that called for millions to be spent on anti-smoking and smoking cessation programs from this hefty pot of cash, but there are no dictates about how money is spent in the state budgets that are passed each June.

"The budget overrides the law. . . .

Then there's the landmark settlement the big tobacco makers agreed to with state attorneys general in 1998 to put an end to all the Medicaid reimbursement lawsuits the companies were facing. Since New Jersey started receiving payments from this settlement in 2000, it has gotten no less than $220 million a year and as much as $405 million in one year.

However, the master settlement agreement with the tobacco companies doesn't mandate how states must spend that money. In New Jersey's case, then-Gov. Jim McGreevey, for his 2004 state budget, borrowed against the cash New Jersey is to receive over 25 years to help plug a $5 billion deficit that year. So those funds are gone, dedicated to paying off debt. http://bit.ly/e7wXId


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