Anti-tobacco activists propose $100M budget

Associated Press - Boston Herald
Monday, February 8, 1999

BOSTON - With the goal of stamping out smoking in the state completely in 20 years, anti-tobacco activists announced a proposal today that would more than triple spending on the state's tobacco control program.

The Massachusetts Coalition for a Healthy Future proposed that the current $31 million budget be increased to $69 million in the coming budget year and then to $99 million in the years following.

A "cessation on demand'' program under which people statewide could get free cessation counseling and nicotine replacement patches or gum would constitute a sizeable chunk of the increase: $25 million.

The activists are hoping that smoking by youths can be wiped out by 2015, smoking by adults can be wiped out by 2020, and death and disease from smoking can be stopped by 2040.

``I think we can do it. I think we have to have that goal,'' said Lori Fresina, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, which is a coalition member.

``If we can get this money, we're going to lead the way in Massachusetts in changing societal norms around tobacco,'' said Jennifer Mansfield, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, also a member.

The money for the budget increase is to come from the massive settlement of the state's lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The lawsuit sought to recover the state's costs of treating smoking-related illnesses.

The coalition's proposal was the latest round to be fired in the battle over what to do with the settlement windfall, which is expected to bring the state $7.6 billion over the next 25 years. The coalition said the average yearly payout would be about $300 million.

Gov. Paul Cellucci opened the debate last month when he released a $20.6 billion budget proposal calling for no increases in the tobacco control program from the settlement except for a $500,000 study of the program's effectiveness.

Rep. Rachel Kaprielian, D-Watertown, who chairs the Legislature's Anti-Tobacco Caucus, said Cellucci's proposal was ``absolutely not good enough.''

``Zero to tobacco prevention is just completely unacceptable,'' she said.

But she said she hadn't yet developed a specific figure for how much the tobacco prevention budget should be increased. The caucus has 58 members and is growing, she said.

The state's current tobacco control program pays, among other things, for advertising and public relations campaigns and research on tobacco use and trends. It also uses its funds to organize local coalitions against smoking.

Beyond the cessation on demand program, the activists said, the $68 million increase in the program's budget in fiscal 2001 would pay for:

- Increases in the anti-smoking media campaign;

- Specially targeted efforts to stop smoking in minority populations and in areas of the state where smoking is worst;

- Increased efforts to protect children from tobacco; and

- More research on tobacco.

Senate President Thomas Birmingham, D-Chelsea, supported spending more money than Cellucci has proposed for anti-tobacco programs, but it was too early to say what kind of increase, said spokeswoman Alison Franklin.

A spokesman for House Speaker Thomas Finneran, D-Boston, didn't immediately have a comment.

The House is the next to release its budget proposal. It is then followed by the Senate.

In 1997, 10,200 people died from smoking-related illnesses in the state.