Restore prevention funding
Since that program came into being, Watauga County has benefitted in many ways. Now there are 53,000 fewer teen smokers in the state than there were when it began. The rate of middle school students who smoke has been cut by more than half, and the high school smoking rate is the lowest in North Carolina history. All public schools, including Watauga County Schools, are now tobacco free. The toll-free Quitline has helped 7,000 citizens overcome their addiction to tobacco.
A year ago, the N.C. General Assembly voted to end the state's teen tobacco prevention program. The state health department has overseen the final year of funding. This year North Carolina has received $141 million from the settlement with the tobacco companies. Funds are available for the state to continue teen tobacco use prevention. Gov. Bev Perdue has asked for $10 million in her proposed budget to continue these efforts. This is short of the $17.3 million that health-care experts suggest should be spent on our youth.
In other states where teen tobacco use prevention funds have been cut, the number of teen smokers has gone back up. Every year, 100,000 students enter middle school in North Carolina and face the decision of whether to use tobacco or not. These students will not get the prevention education that students have received during the past nine years. According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the tobacco industry spends $29 million every day on advertising and promotion. This marketing reaches children in stores, on gas pumps and through magazines. If teen tobacco prevention funding in North Carolina is eliminated, there will be little to counter the industry's advertising efforts.
It is critical that our state continue to protect the health and lives of our youth. Those who begin smoking today may be the victims of lung cancer, emphysema, COPD and heart disease tomorrow. Our state cannot afford these health-care costs. We cannot afford not to fund teen tobacco use.
Watauga County Schools teen tobacco use prevention coordinator