Talking Tobacco: Nebraska Ranks 27th


"Nebraska is again one of the most disappointing states when it comes to protecting kids from tobacco" -- that's a direct quote from the President of Tobacco Free Kids after Nebraska ranked 27th nationwide in funding programs to prevent kids from smoking and helping smokers to quit.

The issue, if you talk to Tobacco Free Hall County, is not that Nebraska doesn't have any money coming in, it's that the dollars aren't getting to the place needed to make the difference.

"Everyone knows we have the tobacco master settlement and when they think of that they think all that money goes to Tobacco Free Nebraska and they couldn't be more wrong," said Sandy Yager, from Tobacco Free Hall County. This year, our state will collect $107 million from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but it will spend just 2.2 percent of it on tobacco prevention programs.

"The smoking rate would decline if we had that money recommended by the CDC," she said. That's right, Tobacco Free Nebraska never assumed they'd see all $100 million, they're just hoping for a fraction. The CDC recommends $21 million for programs like Tobacco Free Nebraska.

"It would be nice to use more of those monies specifically for tobacco cessation… but it is used for a variety of public health issues," said Senator Mike Gloor. Which in a way, does help in the final stage of tobacco use according to Gloor.

"I've had over three decades in the healthcare and I come at this with a firm knowledge that a large number of people in my hospital were there because of tobacco related illness and disease," he said.

It's estimated tobacco costs the state $537 million in healthcare bills every year, claiming 2,200 people along the way. But saving lives and money can go hand in hand said Yager, as long as the state is willing to make the initial investment.

"If we do prevent tobacco use among adults and children, it does equal to more money saved in healthcare costs," she said. Adding, if they keep spending what they've only been getting, the battle is already lost.

"The tobacco industry spends $66.5 million in marketing in the state of Nebraska, it's hard to counter that when we're receiving less than $3 million," she said.

Nebraska currently funds tobacco prevention to the tune of 11 percent of what the CDC recommends; North Dakota and Alaska are the only two states that actually follow the recommendation. Our neighbor to the east, Kansas, gets $161 million in revenue, but only spends $1 million of that towards anti-tobacco programs.