NJ Not Making the Grade When it Comes to Tobacco Control

January 28, 2015 | Health Care, Politics

By Briana Vannozzi

New Jersey is far from getting straight As. In fact, we’re not even close to passing. The American Lung Association’s annual report card for state tobacco control gave New Jersey two Fs, an A and a D.

“Since 2010, there have not been any state dollars allocated to prevention and cessation efforts and so New Jersey is currently ranked 50th in meeting the funding recommendations established by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,” said Deborah Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, Mid-Atlantic Region.

This year alone the state will see nearly $950 million in tobacco related revenue — that’s both taxes and funding from a landmark tobacco settlement. The CDC recommends New Jersey spend $103 million in prevention programs. The state spends zero.

“Six thousand nine hundred kids are starting every year, new smokers every year and with zero state funding to oppose it, it’s just… New Jersey should be ashamed of their record,” said Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Director of State Communications John Schachter.

The association also listed tobacco taxes as reasoning behind the poor marks. The tax on a pack of cigarettes will run you $2.70, but it’s less for other products like chewing tobacco and snuff. The American Lung Association would like them to be equal.

“We know that if we don’t tax those products equally, the other tobacco products will be cheaper and therefore adults and young people are starting to turn to those products because they’re less expensive and in some cases people even think they’re not as harmful to a person’s health,” Brown said.

That tax revenue is supposed to go toward cessation and prevention programs. But in the Garden State, it doesn’t.

We asked the Department of Health about the state’s failing grade. A spokesperson responded by pointing to state agencies that do support anti-smoking efforts. When pressed about why the tax revenue goes into the general fund instead of health programs, the department deferred to treasury. Treasury did not return our calls.

“So the state loses $4.1 billion every year in tobacco related health care costs and 11,800 people are dying in New Jersey every year because of tobacco related illnesses,” Schachter said.

“You also have barriers to coverage so some people might have to have a prior authorization before they can get any cessation treatment options. Some people have health plans that limit the number of times they can try to quit,” said Brown.

Lack of access to cessation programs earned another failed mark. The one bright spot in New Jersey’s report was the lone A — for smoke-free air in places like beaches and enclosed spaces.

Lawmakers looking to fund programs and tax items like e-cigarettes plan to give it another go this session, but with the looming pension and Transportation Trust Fund crisis, it’s unclear how much, if any, funds will be reallocated.