Report blasts N.J.’s efforts at smoking-cessation programs

TRENTON – A new American Cancer Society report harshly criticizes New Jersey for not spending enough from cigarette taxes or from a multistate settlement with tobacco growers to help people quit smoking.

The report, “Up in Smoke,’’  issued today, calls on the state to spend about a dime out of every dollar of revenue from tobacco sales on smoking cessation programs.

In addition, it also calls on the state to increase the cigarette tax, already the nation’s sixth highest, by $1 to $3.70 per pack.

The report also calls on New Jersey to increase its tobacco control budget to a Centers for Disease Control-recommended $119 million per year, and increasing it for 2012-13 to $30 million.

Pulmonary physician and former N.J. Health and Senior Services Commissioner Dr. Fred Jacobs said he understands the governor’s no-tax-hike vow and he realizes the tough fiscal climate.

“But whether a rational argument will carry the day against a political line in the sand is the question,’’ Jacobs said at a press conference today to kick off a public relations campaign to convince state officials to increase anti-smoking funding.

In addition to the Cancer Society, representatives from the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, and  the Heart Institute at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center presented a unified message:

The money is there now to increase funding for anti-smoking programs because the smokers pay into it with each pack they purchase in the state and the tobacco companies have paid into it.

But they fear it no longer is a priority for this administration.

According to the report, the state’s share of the tobacco Masters Settlement Agreement in fiscal year 2007 was $234.7 million, and coupled with $776.4 million in tobacco tax revenue and more than $1 billion in total tobacco revenue, the state spent $11 million on tobacco control.

But five years and one lengthy recession later, the fiscal year 2011 figures are alarming, according to the report:

While the state’s share of the settlement rose to $239 million, tobacco tax revenue was down to $750 million, total tobacco revenue was at $900 million, but only $1.5 million was spent on cessation or education programs.

The state is spending less than 1 percent of tobacco revenues on efforts to stop smoking, the report authors stated.

Despite the settlement agreement that mandated funds be used to combat tobacco use, “pledges have not been kept,’’ said Jennifer Sullivan, of the American Cancer Society Eastern Division.

And as a consequence, a comprehensive tobacco control program fell apart, Jacobs said.

The seven “Quitcenters’’ around the state are withering, Jacobs said.  St. Barnabas, he said, came up with approximately $212,000 to maintain two of them. The Department of Health and Senior Services said that five such Quitcenters remain in operation and are being funded by different institutions.

A training center for professionals at the University of Medicine and Dentistry to help others quit smoking closed, Jacobs said.

But the state Department of Health and Senior Services responded in general to the report.

The Department pointed out that the state now has the third lowest adult smoking rate in the nation, 14.8 percent as of 2010.

In addition, the Department stated that the uninsured and those on Medicaid can call NJQuitline for help: 1-866-NJStops.

The Department urged smokers to turn to their physicians, use wellness programs, and contact insurers about coverage for counseling and other efforts.

Despite the advances New Jersey has made, more than 11,000 residents will die this year of smoking-related diseases and more than $3.1 billion will be spent on treating smoking-related illnesses, the Cancer Society stated.

“The state does virtually nothing,’’ said Blair Horner, vice president for Advocacy with the American Cancer Society Eastern Division. “Most smokers can’t quit merely by raising prices,’’ he said, and that is why the revenues should be used to fund anti-smoking programs.

Report blasts N.J.’s efforts at smoking-cessation programs