Cancer Society calls for more tobacco controls

TRENTON – Leaders from the American Cancer Society and other anti-smoking advocates called on the Legislature to increase tobacco control funding at a Statehouse news conference this afternoon.

Currently, the state spends slightly more than $1 million annually in funding on tobacco control initiatives, which include tobacco-quit phone lines, as well as advertisements and educational programs. The Center for Disease and Control recommends that states spend roughly $120 million annually on tobacco control initiatives. New Jersey is 43rd in the country in spending, according to the CDC.

The ACS is asking that the state increase funding to $30 million this year, and by $30 million in subsequent years until New Jersey reaches the recommended $120 million goal.

“We think the substantive case is made that the state has the money, it collects the money, but it chooses to spend it somewhere else despite previous promises to use that money for tobacco control,” said Blair Horner, the vice president for advocacy at the American Cancer Society.

Nearly 4,500 New Jersey residents died from cancers caused by smoking, Horner said, which make up for 25 percent of cancer deaths in New Jersey.

“It should be a top budget priority going forward,” Horner said.

Dr. Fred Jacobs, a former New Jersey Health Commissioner, supported outdoor smoking restrictions and called on legislators to continue a push for more public smoking bans.

“Outdoor smoking restrictions send a message from the government to young people that smoking is not socially acceptable in any place,” Jacobs said.

Dr. Perry Weinstock, the head of the Division of Cardiovascular Disease at Cooper University Hospital, and the past-president of the American Heart Association New Jersey Regional Board of Directors, also spoke at the news conference.

“We have volunteers and other health organizations working extremely hard to improve health, yet the state finds it acceptable to only spend less than 1 percent of its revenue total on tobacco prevention during the past five years,” Weinstock said. “That equates to less than one penny for every dollar of revenue raised in New Jersey. All while tobacco companies are spending more than $176 million to market their products in New Jersey each year.”

Horner said the ACS has had conversations with legislators about addressing the lack of funding, but said he is not sure if the calls for more funding will fall on deaf ears.

“The budget numbers that came in last month were not helpful,” Horner said. “What we’d like to see is a down payment now and a commitment going forward…[The Legislature] should meet the promise that they made 10 years ago to use the tobacco settlement money and some of these tobacco tax monies to keep kids from starting to smoke.”

Jacobs said the state raising the tobacco retail licensing fee and increasing taxes on non-cigarette tobacco products could restore the $30 million.

Earlier this month, Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-19), Woodbridge, and Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), Teaneck, introduced legislation (S1887) to increase the tax on non-cigarette tobacco products to equal the cigarette taxes. The American Cancer Society has since released a memorandum in support of the legislation. 

Cancer Society calls for more tobacco controls