R.I. anti-smoking funding falls short

Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A recent report from a coalition of anti-smoking organizations ranked Rhode Island’s funding for anti-smoking programs 38th in the country. The state spends $373,000 yearly on anti-smoking efforts, only 2.5 percent of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended level of $15.2 million, according to the report. Alaska ranks first, spending $10.8 million on prevention programs, 101.3 percent of the recommended level.

The coalition’s annual report evaluates states’ expenses in comparison to the federally recommended levels. The report aims to “raise awareness,” said Dan Cronin, state communications director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, one of the organizations in the coalition. “We want to do the report to see if states are actually doing what they’re supposed to be doing” with the money they have received from settlements with tobacco companies and the revenue they collect from tobacco taxes, he said.

“Unfortunately, Rhode Island is not doing as well as it should be,” he added.

This year, Rhode Island will bring in $183 million in revenue from tobacco taxes and settlements, Cronin said. “That’s a big difference,” he said of the gap between state revenues and expenditures on anti-smoking programs. “A lot of times, people forget that this is an issue,” Cronin said, though “the tobacco companies are not stopping.”

But Cronin also pointed to the state’s achievements. Rhode Island has the second-highest cigarette excise tax in the country, at $3.46 per pack. Last year, the Rhode Island Department of Health Tobacco Control Program successfully combated efforts to reduce the excise tax by a dollar, wrote spokeswoman Annemarie Beardsworth in an email to The Herald.

The Department of Health is currently working with the Rhode Island Tobacco Control Network, the American Cancer Society and community groups to support efforts to further reduce smoking trends. Such efforts include reclassifying small cigars to apply the same excise tax requirements as cigarettes, raising the cigarette excise tax to produce more funding to help offset the cost of second-hand, smoke-related disease and establishing smoke-free housing initiatives that would expand the existing Public Health and Workplace Safety Law.

Students generally perceive Brown as a smoke-friendly campus. “I was surprised by the number of student-smokers on campus, especially cigarette smoking,” said Mary Sketch ’15. “I didn’t realize it was as much a part of college life.”

“It’s accepted, and if you want to be a part of that community, then you can be,” said Lucy Fernandez ’14. “But if you don’t want to, that’s fine too.”

In 2009, a survey conducted by the Public Health and Health Education programs at Brown found that 85.6 percent of the student body reported smoking or using chewing tobacco five times or fewer over the previous academic year, wrote Frances Mantak, director of Health Education, in an email to The Herald. The Health Education website offers a variety of resources on smoking, including lists of reasons and methods for quitting.