In 1997, then-Attorney General Chris Gregoire was one of five attorney generals who took on Big Tobacco and won. The $375 billion settlement, of which Washington state got a nice piece, was paid to compensate for damages caused by tobacco
States were supposed to use that money for a variety of tobacco-related causes, including prevention programs.
Unfortunately, Washington state’s share of the settlement is essentially gone as the state borrowed from the settlement at loan-shark interest rates when it was going through financial troubles when Gary Locke was governor.
We thought it was shortsighted then. Yet, lawmakers continued to borrow against the tobacco money to fund state government.
Another financial crisis hit about five years ago and borrowing against future settlement payments was no longer an option. And, unfortunately, there wasn’t even enough money to properly fund smoking prevention programs such as the toll-free tobacco quit line.
From 2003 to 2008, the state Tobacco Control and Prevention program used around $28 million to fund the quit line, prevention programs in schools and local health organizations, a state spokesman said.
Funding has diminished since then. And this year lawmakers, in the midst of yet another budget crisis, pulled the plug on funding for the toll-free tobacco quit line. Those who have medical insurance could still use the service but others were out of luck.
The state has not lived up to the terms of the Big Tobacco settlement. It hasn’t provided the support it had pledged to anti-smoking efforts.
For the past year, Washington has been the only state in the country without its own hotline that offered free tobacco-cessation counseling.
That’s going to change. The state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are putting $1.6 million into the program for the next year, essentially restoring funding.
Since last July, according to The Seattle Times, more than half of the 6,500 who could not get the help they sought asked for a return call if the state restored service.
Now those return calls can be made.
Helping citizens to quit smoking is not only the right thing to do, but it benefits the public financially. It drives down health-care costs paid for through taxes and insurance premiums.
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