Smoking Funds Fail to Hit High-Smoking Areas

Wisconsin cigarette tax money rarely used for prevention

The State of Wisconsin spends about 3 percent of the money generated from cigarette tax on programs to prevent people from smoking and help people quit smoking. The rest of the money generated from the tax goes into the general fund.

Since 2001, the funding for these programs was cut in half by the state. Since 2002, however, smoking in the state of Wisconsin has only decreased by about 7 percent.

The money budgeted for anti-smoking programs goes into the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. The program encompasses 21 different organizations around the state.

One of the programs under the umbrella of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program is FACT. FACT, a youth-led campaign against smoking, set up seven smoke-free campaigns in the state. They’ve happened in Wausau, Oneida, Stevens Point, Hudson, Stoughton, Milton and Wauwatosa.

Of the smoke-free campaigns, not all have occurred in counties where high smoking rates exist. Counties where smoking per capita rates are high, there have been no smoke-free campaigns.

The only county to see an increase in smoking since 2002, Menominee County, where a large percentage of the population is Native American, there have been no smoke free campaigns.

Changes in Funding

In the past, funding for tobacco programs in the state of Wisconsin has been all over the board. In 2001, funding was at $21 million. That funding saw a reduction to $13.5 million in 2002 and was $14 million in 2003. Since 2004, funding has consistently been at $10 million with an additional $1 million from the Centers for Disease Control or CDC.

“I knew not all the money went into programs but I assumed it was a higher amount.” said Senator Jeff Plale.

Some legislatures don’t think any money should go toward programs. “Funds for anti-smoking programs (are) not a good use of taxpayer money on a product that is legal in Wisconsin.” said SENATOR Joel Kleefisch.

There have been a few reasons for the dramatic change in funding. “The Wisconsin legislature has been dealing with a large deficit the past two budget cycles which has affected the funding from the state,” said Tana Feiner of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.

A change in governmental structure also changed funding for the program. “Since Governor Doyle took power, he made (the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program) part of the Department of Health and Family Services, and we’ve been getting $10 million consistently since.” said Luke Witkowski from the FACT program.

Apparently the cut in funding was also a slap on the wrist for the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program from the legislature as well. “It was not considered effective with the amount of funding going into it… the legislature said ‘come up with new innovative ways of preventing smoking’ because it seemed (at the time) it was going toward wasteful activities.” said Mike Mikalsen, research assistant to Steve Nass of the state Assembly.

Funding for tobacco programs in the state are lower than what they should be, some feel. “The CDC recommends that we get $31 million to have a comprehensive program. They base that off of statistics and number of smokers.” said Witkowski .“$31 million would greatly reduce the number of youths that start smoking.”

According to a study from the Tobacco Surveillance and Evaluation Program done by the University of Wisconsin in 2004, $1.4482 billion was spent on cigarettes and of that $292.3844 million was generated from the cigarette tax.

Smoke-Free Campaigns

FACT set up seven smoke-free campaigns across the state. They were in Wausau, Oneida, Stevens Point, Hudson, Stoughton, Milton and Wauwatosa. Only two of the seven cities, Wauwatosa and Wausau, were in the top five smoking counties per capita, according to the study from the Tobacco Surveillance and Evaluation Program. There are eight other counties with higher smoking rates than Rock County, where there was a campaign in Milton.

According to the survey, the only county in the state to see an increase in smoking from 2002 to 2006 was Menominee County. There was no smoke-free campaign in Menominee County.

“It was mostly their willingness to go smoke free.” said Witkowski of the places where there have been campaigns. “There were already thoughts of campaigns in these communities.”

The legislators thought that was one of the problems of the program. “That was one criticism of the Tobacco and Control Program, it was heavily aimed at TV commercials and children…. They didn’t do the appropriate research… they failed to target regions where smoking is predominant.” said Mikalsen. “They spent money on areas with a low percentage of smoking already. It didn’t make sense to help areas that already had successful numbers.”

Witkowski says the campaigns were successful. “If you look at the (seven) places; Stevens Point, Wausau and Wauwatosa all have restaurant bans on smoking since the campaigns.

The smoke-free campaigns were youth-based initiatives to educate communities about smoke-free air according to Witkowski. “In Stevens Point, youth attended city council meetings to try and pass an anti-smoking bill… in Wausau they put up billboards on roadways.”

“For us, there wasn’t a strong youth component in Menominee County.” said Witkowski.

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