American Cancer Society wants state to increase funding for smoking cessation and prevention

Published 2:52 pm Thursday, December 21, 2023

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The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network will ask legislators in the upcoming General Assembly session to spend a lot more on tobacco prevention and cessation, with a focus on how decreasing smoking and vaping rates would improve Kentucky’s economy and its workforce.

Doug Hogan, the group’s government-relations director for Kentucky and West Virginia, told Kentucky Health News that Kentucky’s high smoking rates come with great cost to people’s health, health-care systems and the economy.

“From a business perspective, businesses are losing thousands of dollars each month because of lost productivity and also on increased health-care costs for their employees who smoke,” Hogan said. “This is a huge cost factor for our businesses and it’s also a healthy-workforce issue.”

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In a news release, Hogan said “Smoking is estimated to cost Kentucky $2.23 billion in direct health-care costs, including $634 million in Medicaid costs annually. Additionally, smoking costs the state an estimated $6.3 billion in productivity costs annually.”

Hogan praised state officials for creating in the last several years environments that are conducive to expanding businesses and creating more jobs, but he told KHN, “If there’s not a healthy workforce to fill in those jobs, then a lot of that is for naught. And so we want to take a look at the economics of this and say, we need to focus on a healthy workforce.”

The cancer society’s ask of $10 million a year for tobacco cessation and prevention is $8 million more than the state is spending now.

This increase would prevent 2,400 Kentucky teenagers from growing into adults addicted to deadly nicotine products, Hogan said in an email.

“We want to use the additional funding for prevention so that our next generation of young people don’t grow into adults who are addicted to deadly nicotine products,” he said. “And then the other part of that is to provide the tools and the resources that adults need, who want to quit, to be able to be successful and move toward a smoke-free lifestyle.”

In Kentucky, the release said, “22.5% of high school students currently use tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, and 17.4% of adults in Kentucky smoke, which is over 40% higher than the national average.”

Hogan said in the release, “Kentucky has the opportunity to turn these numbers around with the 2024 budget. For every $1 spent on comprehensive prevention and cessation programs, states receive up to $55 in savings from averted tobacco-related health-care costs. So, a $10 million investment would be a great step toward a healthier workforce and could save up to $550 million.”

The University of Kentucky‘s Markey Cancer Center will evaluate the program to ensure the state is getting the maximum return on its investment, Hogan said.

He added, “We know that kids who experiment with electronic cigarettes are much more likely to experiment with other tobacco products and more likely to become addicted to deadly nicotine products.”

A document presented to the legislature’s Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee in September showed the estimated monthly and annual costs to employers from cigarette smoking, by county. In Adair County, where 26% of the adult population smokes, the annual cost to the workforce for the estimated 1,138 adults in the workforce who smoke is $7.9 million.

The 2024 legislative session convenes Jan. 2 and must adjourn by April 15. The deadline for filing for legislative seats and other partisan offices in the 2024 primary elections is Jan. 5.

Lawmaker on key committees supports an increase in funding

Sen. Amanda Mays Bledsoe, R-Lexington, vice-chair of the Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee and co-chair of the House-Senate tobacco committee, said she agrees with the cancer society’s argument that reducing the number of people who smoke will save money in the long run and would create a healthier workforce.

“I think their plan is on the right track,” she said.

However, she added, that she’ll have to wait and see what is in the House budget before before she can react to this request. The budget must start in the House.

“I’m not really sure where that’s gonna land,” Mays Bledsoe said, “but I am supportive of their ask.”

She added that it’s important to recognize that the tobacco-settlement money touches several pieces of the budget, with half of it allocated for agriculture diversification.

“I was really surprised over the years of where they’ve used program money,” she said. “And my biggest surprise was how much of it was not used on specifically tobacco cessation.” That was one of the big arguments for the states’ 1998 settlement with cigarette manufacturers, but states have spent relatively little on it.

Kentucky 43rd in smoking cessation and prevention funding

While $10 million would be a huge jump from the current $2 million in tobacco prevention and cessation spending, it would still fall far short of the $56.4 million advised by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to a report titled “Broken Promises to Our Children: A State-by-State Look at the 1998 Tobacco Settlement 24 Years Later,”  Kentucky ranks 43rd among states in funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs, down five slots from 2020, when it spent $3.3 million.

Meanwhile, the tobacco industry spends $251 million for tobacco marketing in the state, says the report, issued by the cencer society, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the Truth Initiative and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

Quit help for Kentucky smokers

Kentucky smokers have several tools to help them quit.

The state runs a 1-800-QUIT-NOW hotline that offers free tobacco-cessation services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Coaching is available by phone or online chats. .

And while Quit Now Kentucky provides free services to people of all ages, middle- and high-school students may want to try “My Life, My Quit,” a free, confidential quitline for Kentuckians 17 and younger to help them stop smoking or vaping. Teens can text “Start My Quit” to 36072, or click on the live chat button on the My Life, My Quit website to chat with a coach.

A 2017 law requires insurers, including Medicaid, to cover all seven tobacco-cessation medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and counseling services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. It also eliminated co-payments for medication and counseling, requirements tying medication coverage to counseling, and limits on the length of treatment.

The cancer society also offers a list of resources to help you quit using tobacco products.

Hogan said many Kentucky smokers still don’t know what quitting resources are available to them, even though research shows that more than two-thirds of smokers say they want to quit.

“But it’s very difficult,” he said. “If we increase the tobacco prevention, cessation programming, and the investment that we’re making there, we can have more of an impact on the folks to get them the resources they need to quit.”