By LINDSAY POWERS
ANNAPOLIS (November 18, 2010)A report released by several public health organizations Wednesday ranked Maryland's funding of its anti-tobacco program 34th in the country.
According to the report, Maryland currently puts $4.3 million a year toward tobacco prevention, a 78 percent decrease from two years ago. This amounts to 6.9 percent of the funding level the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended for the state.
The report states that 6,800 people in Maryland die from smoking-related causes each year.
Vincent DeMarco, president of Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, noted the state's progress in preventing tobacco use over the last decade, which he said has saved 70,000 lives and saved the state $2 billion in health care costs.
He emphasized, however, the importance of increasing funding so the state can continue to "save lives and money."
"We need to put the money back in the program," DeMarco said.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, one of the public health organizations that put out the report, adult and high school student smoking rates have decreased due to the state's prevention program, a law that bans smoking in workplaces, and a $2 tax on cigarette packs.
However, Matthew L. Myers, the organization's president, sees the decreased funding as a threat to the state's progress.
"Maryland has made tremendous progress in the fight against tobacco, but these gains could stop and even reverse unless state leaders quickly increase funding for tobacco prevention programs," Myers said in a press release.
Of the $546 million the state will gain this year from tobacco taxes and a 1998 settlement from a lawsuit against tobacco companies, the report says 0.8 percent will be put toward tobacco prevention. A requirement in the state budget that set a minimum funding amount for tobacco prevention was removed earlier this year.
Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley, said reduced revenue resulting from the recession has hurt funding in many areas.
"Tobacco prevention, particularly concerning youth, is a priority for the governor," Adamec said. "Not only because of its public health benefits, but because in the long run it saves money."