The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a coalition of public health organizations, has ranked New Jersey 51 in the nation, including Washington D.C., in protecting children from smoking and tobacco use. Experts at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, are urging the state to reconsider utilizing funds from the 1998 Tobacco Settlement to reinstate the state's comprehensive Tobacco Control Program, which was eliminated in 2009.
"New Jersey is the only state that spends nothing to support tobacco prevention and treatment programs, despite receiving funds from the Tobacco Settlement and earning tobacco-generated revenue of more than $947 million in Fiscal Year 2014," said Jill M. Williams, MD, a professor of psychiatry and chief of addiction psychiatry at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. "Treating - and preventing - tobacco dependence has been shown by several states to have a direct savings on healthcare costs related to smoking such as heart attacks, lung and other cancers."
According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, annual healthcare costs that can be contributed to smoking are $317 billion in New Jersey, $967 million of which is covered by the state Medicaid program. Medicaid is the primary health insurer for persons with mental illness in the U.S.
"Significant health disparities exist in New Jersey, where there are very high rates of smoking among the poor and individuals with mental illness," Dr. Williams said. "Ignoring the need to provide our most vulnerable citizens with accessible, effective smoking cessation programs not only affects their health, but increases long-term healthcare costs and ultimately affects the wallets of New Jersey's taxpayers."
In a published editorial piece last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, Williams and her colleagues underscored the need for collaborative, sustained efforts in treating tobacco addiction. To combat reliance on tobacco in mental health populations, the experts agreed that mental health services and government-sponsored tobacco control programs must work together to improve education and access to smoking cessation programs.
"New Jersey has dedicated health professionals who are looking to work with the state on collaborative efforts that can increase opportunities for prevention and wellness services, and broaden access to smoking cessation programs through clinical care," explained Williams, who chairs the New Jersey Breathes Coalition. "Reinstating funding for a tobacco control program in the next state budget can result in comprehensive services to treat tobacco addiction and help New Jersey prevent smoking and reliance on other tobacco products for our children."
The report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, "Broken Promises to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement Fifteen Years Later," can be found at: http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/what_we_do/state_local/tobacco_settlement/. Additional information on the effects of tobacco on the health and finances of New Jersey may be found at: http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/facts_issues/toll_us/new_jersey.
Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School