The latest report on how well states are funding tobacco prevention-and-cessation efforts has Kentucky ranked 39th in the nation. According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Kentucky will take in $347 million in tobacco tax and settlement revenue this year.
But, it will spend only $2.5 million to help smokers quit and prevent kids from starting. Ellen Hahn, director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy, says that's "a drop in the bucket" compared with what the tobacco industry spends on marketing.
"It's like a David and Goliath comparison," says Hahn. "We're really just outspent in just marketing alone, and that has been the case for years."
According to the report, the tobacco industry spends $271 million annually on marketing in Kentucky.
John Schachter, director of state communications with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, says nationwide, states are collecting more than $25 billion this year from tobacco taxes and lawsuit settlement dollars, but are spending less than two percent of that on prevention and cessation programs.
"Those numbers are indicative that the states are literally sacrificing the lives and health of kids and it's something which doesn't have to be the case," Schachter says.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing nearly a half-million Americans each year. Yet, Kentucky is spending just 4.4 percent of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the state should be putting into tobacco control.
Hahn says there are cost-effective things Kentucky could be doing to reduce the almost $2 billion in annual health care costs caused by smoking.
"We could really reduce that burden significantly by spending just a little bit upfront in tobacco control spending," says Hahn. "We have a lot of good people who are working on a shoestring, and if we gave them just a little bit more money we would see a huge return on investment."
Hahn says more money is needed for cessation because more than one in four Kentucky adults smoke, and that sends a "powerful message" to children.