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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 24, 2010

Continuing Isles' tobacco programs an 'investment'

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Programs that encourage people to quit smoking or not pick up the habit are working, and lawmakers should resist the temptation to shift money from tobacco-control programs, officials said.

They pointed to the fact that deaths related to heart disease in Hawai'i declined 28 percent from 2000 to 2008. Officials said that statistic is a good benchmark because heart disease is a smoking-related illness.

"The numbers show us that Hawai'i has made a significant rate of return in tobacco control," said Julian Lipsher, Hawai'i state Department of Health Tobacco Prevention & Education program coordinator. "The fight's not over. We still have 1,200 people die every year from tobacco-related deaths."

Lipsher spoke at a news conference Thursday announcing the latest findings by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on state-by-state results of tobacco control programs.

While results are encouraging, anti-smoking officials feel now is not the time to cut back on proven high-impact strategies that are mostly funded by a settlement by tobacco companies, said Don Weisman, spokesman for the American Heart Association in Hawai'i.

Officials fear that lawmakers trying to find every last nickel and dime to fund the state budget may be tempted to tap into tobacco settlement money and cut the tobacco control programs, which are proving effective.

"With the legislative session under way, the threat to the tobacco control programs is real," Weisman said. "Tobacco costs spread throughout our community. Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the state. It's a small investment."

Hawai'i spends about $8.8 million a year on anti-smoking measures. State law bans smoking in the workplace, in restaurants and in bars. Among the programs offered are a Medicaid treatment program for tobacco dependency, a Quitline hotline, and a $2.60-a-pack excise tax.

On the flip side, tobacco companies spend $42 million marketing tobacco and tobacco products in Hawai'i alone, Lipsher said.

"This report shows us how much we can do by standing together," said Dr. Elizabeth Tam, University of Hawai'i John A. Burns School of Medicine chairwoman. "We need to go further."

Utah has the lowest percentage of adult smokers with a 9.2 percent rate and West Virgina has the highest rate at 26.6 percent. Hawai'i has a 15.4 percent smoking rate and ranks fifth nationwide.

Among youth ages 12 to 17, 6.8 percent here report that they smoke, ranking Hawai'i second behind Utah, whose rate is 6.5 percent.

Nationwide, 46 million Americans smoke cigarettes; about 443,00 deaths a year are tobacco-related, officials said.