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States have reduced funding for tobacco prevention programs this year to the lowest levels since 1999, a new report by public health groups finds.

The report says the current budget crisis should not be an excuse for states to cut tobacco prevention programs. “The evidence is clear that these programs not only reduce smoking and save lives, but also save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs. Even in these difficult budget times, tobacco prevention is one of the smartest and most fiscally responsible investments that states can make,” the report notes.

According to the Associated Press, tobacco prevention programs were cut 12 percent this past year, and 36 percent over the past four years. States will collect $25.6 billion in tobacco taxes and legal settlements from the tobacco industry, but will spend only 1.8 percent of that—$456.7 million—on tobacco prevention or cessation programs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all states combined spend $3.7 billion on these programs per year. The AP reports 33 states and the District of Columbia are spending less than one-fourth of the amount the CDC recommends. Alaska is the only state that meets or exceeds the CDC’s recommendation. Connecticut, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and the District of Columbia did not allocate any money for tobacco prevention programs this year.

In 1998, tobacco companies agreed to settle lawsuits brought by several states over smoking-related health care costs by paying about $206 billion over more than 20 years.

“More than ever, this report shows that the states have squandered the opportunity presented by the tobacco settlement to significantly reduce tobacco use and its devastating toll on our nation,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, one of the groups that produced the report.

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