California grabbed the attention of the tobacco industry and the nation in a big way when it unveiled an aggressive, multimillion-dollar advertising campaign against tobacco use in 1990. This effective advertising campaign was accompanied by a multifaceted community and school-based education program aimed at helping youth refrain from smoking, helping smokers quit and providing health care screenings for needy children. Why, then, is California scaling back the most ambitious and successful effort in the nation's long battle against smoking?
The state's budget proposal shifts $60 million in revenue generated by the Tobacco Tax Initiative, Prop. 99, from the anti-tobacco education campaign into providing patient medical services. This includes eliminating $32 million for anti-smoking commercials and cuts in half funds for tobacco research. Our supporters are outraged and our critics are confused.
The revenues from the Tobacco Tax Initiative are being diverted for only one reason: to cope with the worst budget crisis in California's history. The continuing economic downturn that has reduced the nation's domestic production and increased unemployment has hit hard here at home. Facing a $6-billion deficit over the next 18 months, budget planners have had to make painful but necessary cuts in worthwhile programs. In a budget where we've been forced to eliminate $300 million in medical services, temporarily redirecting some of the funds from the anti-smoking campaign is necessary and fair.
It's important to emphasize that the shift will affect only a portion of the money intended for anti-tobacco education. More than $80 million will remain at the local level to fund community-based anti-tobacco efforts--far more than any other state is devoting to this kind of work, even on a per capita basis. Although community-based programs do not attract as much attention as the department's anti-smoking commercials, the work of these community organizations has been just as important. Their work resulted in a steady and significant downward trend in smoking in California beginning in 1974.
Perhaps the most troubling result of the redirection of tobacco tax funds is the obvious satisfaction of the tobacco industry. They couldn't be more wrong. One of the goals of the media campaign was to tell the truth about smoking--that it's a deadly, highly addictive habit, and that the tobacco companies are no more than legal dope dealers. That truth remains, and I remain committed to California's anti-tobacco campaign, and to its goal of eliminating tobacco use. Look out, Joe Camel.
MOLLY JOEL COYE MD
State Health Director, Sacramento