Protecting DC from Tobacco

Since its inception in November 2005, DC Tobacco Free Families (DCTFF) has successfully reduced smoking rates in Washington, DC. In January 2007, the DC Council allocated $10 million in funding over three years for DCTFF to implement evidence-based programs to help tobacco users quit and to prevent youth from starting to smoke, especially among Medicaid recipients and underserved residents. Statistics show that these efforts have been successful. Between 2005 and 2008, adult smoking rates declined by 19 percent, from 20.1 percent to 16.2 percent, which means thousands of fewer smokers in the District, fewer tobacco-related deaths, and significant reductions in future health care costs, including Medicaid costs, caused by tobacco use.

Through a combination of tobacco prevention and cessation programming based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Best Practice recommendations and tobacco control policies, the District has made tremendous strides in driving down tobacco use rates. However, tobacco still poses an enormous threat to District residents. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in DC, claiming more than 700 lives each year and costing the state $243 million annually in health care bills, including $78 million in Medicaid payments alone. And despite recent progress, 16 percent of adults still smoke and one in ten youth smoke. While youth smoking has declined since 2003, the most recent data show a slight increase in youth smoking, from 9.2 percent to 10.6 percent.

Most significant are the alarming disparities in tobacco use in the District. While smoking prevalence has declined overall, there are still significant disparities in tobacco use. In Ward 8, for example, while progress has been made in reducing tobacco use from 32 percent to 26 percent in the last three years, it still has a smoking prevalence ten percentage points above the overall prevalence for DC. Many of these individuals are on public assisted health care insurance and cost the District significant resources as a result of increased health care needs from tobacco-related illnesses.

This month, without any action by the DC government, this highly successful program will be virtually eliminated. As a result, the mass media campaign, community-based grants program and tobacco prevention initiatives will be abolished. Currently $850,000 has been designated by the DC Cancer Consortium for tobacco cessation services through a competitive grant process, however no agency has been designated to receive these funds and no funds have been released. While $850,000 will provide cessation services to a limited number of people, this amount is far short of what is needed to adequately address the toll of tobacco in the District.
Maintaining funding for DCTFF would secure millions of dollars in future health care cost savings by preventing District kids from becoming addicted smokers and by helping many current smokers and other tobacco users to quit. Funding for DCTFF should be maintained so it can continue its excellent work to help smokers throughout the District quit, prevent kids from smoking, address disparities in tobacco use, and reduce smoking-caused healthcare costs.

Without providing the adequate funds necessary to keep DCTFF’s activities going, DC will be saddled with higher health costs and lower business productivity during these challenging economic times. DC can expect the following increases in youth tobacco use and related costs from failing to renew DCTFF’s program funding, including 2,400 kids who will experiment with and become addicted to tobacco.

Although it has only been in operation for a short time, DC Tobacco Free Families has proven itself to be effective at preventing kids from starting to smoke and encouraging and assisting smokers to quit, ultimately reducing tobacco use rates. Funding for DCTFF should be maintained at its current level of $3.6 million annually so it can continue its excellent work to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.

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