The American Lung Association will release its annual State of Tobacco Control report Wednesday, and if history repeats itself, New Jersey will not have improved much from last year.
The report evaluates each state on tobacco prevention and cessation funding, smoke-free air laws, access to cessation services and tax rates on cigarettes.
New Jersey is the only state in the country that does not allocate any funding for tobacco prevention.
Instead of spending millions from a landmark 1998 settlement with the tobacco industry on smoking-cessation efforts, the state this year will begin repaying hundreds of millions of dollars to bondholders after converting the settlement money into $90 million to fill a budget hole in 2014.
Gov. Chris Christie’s administration slashed state funding for smoking cessation from about $7 million when he took office to zero dollars since 2013. Spending cuts on the programs during Christie’s administration ended all state funding for five quit centers.
Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. The Lung Association estimated there were 11,780 smoking-attributable deaths in New Jersey between 2005 and 2009.
The state has experienced an economic cost due to smoking of more than $4 billion in the past, according to last year’s report.
New Jersey takes in nearly $1 billion in revenue from the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement payments and tobacco taxes, according to last year’s report. This year, it will begin handing over the settlement payments to bondholders.
New Jersey worst in the nation for state spending on tobacco preventionFederal funding provides the state with about $2.9 million for prevention efforts, which is used on a hotline and website to help those seeking to quit smoking. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends New Jersey spend about $103 million for such programs. The state falls nearly 97 percent short of the recommended spending level.
Smoking rates have decreased over the years, but they are still present among adults and high school teens.
The Christie administration argues the state’s smoking rates are declining, down to 15.1 percent in 2015 from 27.9 percent for adults in 1990, according to the state Department of Health. It’s unclear whether the rate changed since state funding for tobacco control ended. The administration also points to a $2.70-per-pack cigarette tax it said has been a deterrent, especially to teenagers. Data showing smoking rates since the tax rose to its current rate were not immediately available.
In the 2016 report, the American Lung Association in New Jersey recommended the state tax electronic cigarettes at the same level as regular cigarette pack, completely eliminate smoking in casinos and secure tobacco prevention and cessation funding.
The only area in which New Jersey received an A grade in last year’s report was in smoke-free air laws. It is illegal for people to smoke in public and private workplaces, schools, restaurants, most bars, child-care facilities, retail stores and recreational facilities.
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Atlantic City casinos can allow smoking on up to 25 percent of their gambling floors. Laws prohibiting smoking areas are enforced with penalties.
To learn more about New Jersey in the 2016 State of Tobacco Control report, visit lung.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.