Source: Courier-Post Online
As his tenure in Trenton winds down, New Jersey governor Chris Christie has championed the fight against heroin. His posture on another addictive substance, however, has been a different story.
“New Jersey does not provide any type of state funding for prevention or cessation programs,” Deb Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, told Gannett New Jersey. “New Jersey is at the bottom of the list when we look at what every state provides.”
For failing to fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs, the Association’s annual report issued the following grades to the Garden State’s elected representatives:
Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs: Grade F
Strength of Smoke-free Workplace Laws: Grade A
Level of State Tobacco Taxes: Grade D
Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco: Grade F
Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21: Grade D
About 1.2 million New Jersey residents (14 percent of the population) use tobacco; there are 11,780 smoking-attributable deaths per year; and a $4 billion healthcare tab due to the effects of tobacco use. “Our fear is if we continue this trend of zero dollars toward prevention and cessation, we’re going to eventually see those numbers start increasing,” Brown said.
A master settlement agreement reached in 1998 between the attorneys general of 46 states and the four largest U.S. tobacco companies, stipulates that in exchange for protection from private lawsuits over the harm caused by tobacco use, the companies agreed to make payments to the states to defray the medical costs of smoking-related illnesses.
New Jersey used the settlement money to fill a budget gap in 2014, and Christie’s administration “slashed state funding for smoking cessation from around $7 million when he took office to zero dollars since 2013,” says Brown. “Spending cuts on the programs over Christie’s administration ended all state funding for five quit centers. At the height of state funding for tobacco control in 2002, New Jersey funded 17 quit centers, but now the state funds none.”
Another concern of the American Lung Association is the age to purchase tobacco, which is 19 in New Jersey. Although that’s a year older than in most states, Jersey had a chance to be on the leading edge of the movement to raise it to 21, on par with alcohol purchases. Brown says that “Currently we have 24 (municipalities) in New Jersey that have the age at 21.” Why is this important? “Most smokers transition from experimentation to regular use during that 18-21 time frame,” Brown said.
“If we can stop young people from smoking, we don’t have to help them quit later. Certainly there are healthcare costs associated with that.”
As Christie has made the media rounds touting his commitment to fight opioid addiction, Brown and others entrenched in the fight against tobacco hope the light goes on for American’s new drug czar.
“Certainly we hope this would increase his awareness of the addiction process,” she said. “Maybe it will help him learn and understand more and maybe we can protect people from a lifetime of addiction.”