Anti-smoking advocates who fought for years to increase the state cigarette tax are disappointed by proposed legislation that would reduce by half the portion of the tax revenue spent on smoking-cessation efforts.
But they also appreciate the goal of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brian White, to put more money into screening for cancer. Words are being chosen carefully.
“Prevention (of various diseases) is not something we work against each other on,” said June Deen, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in South Carolina and Georgia. “We try to work together.”
But White’s bill takes from one effort and gives to another. It reduces the annual $5 million of cigarette tax revenue spent on smoking-cessation efforts by $2.5 million and directs that money to statewide efforts to screen for breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
White, R-Anderson, said he doubts the effectiveness of anti-smoking TV commercials funded by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. He feels the cancer screening is a better use of the funds.
“Most every one of us has had someone in the family affected,” White said.
The various groups who pushed for years for a higher cigarette tax disagree with White, not on the broad impact of breast and colorectal cancers but on the effectiveness of smoking-cessation efforts.
They cite studies that back the effectiveness of anti-smoking advertisements aimed at young people as well as efforts aimed at encouraging smokers to quit.
They also note that calls to the state’s tobacco quit line tripled in the first two months of 2012 when cigarette tax revenue was used to promote the line.
The anti-smoking groups “worked hard to pass a cigarette tax increase,” Deen said. “It only makes sense that a portion of those funds go to smoking-cessation efforts.”
The $5 million for cessation efforts was part of the negotiations to pass the cigarette tax increase in 2010, the first increase in 33 years.
That increased cigarette taxes from 50 cents to 57 cents per pack, still among the lowest tax rates in the country.
The cigarette tax was estimated to bring in $130 million per year, with the majority paying for Medicaid programs.
Nancy Cheney, government relations director for the American Cancer Society in South Carolina, thanked White for pressing for funding for breast and colorectal cancer screening.
But she said she doesn’t want that to come at the expense of smoking-cessation efforts.
“It did take 10 years to pass (the cigarette tax increase), and we still know that tobacco use in any form is the leading preventable cause of disease and deaths in the country,” Cheney said. “I believe the best use of that money would be to leave it where it is.”
It pained the board of the S.C. Cancer Alliance to ask White not to go forward with his bill, said Cheney, a member of that board.
The DHEC already runs a statewide breast and cervical cancer screening program — the Best Chance Network — with $3.2 million it receives annually from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the agency.
But the DHEC discontinued its state-funded colorectal screening program last year because of budget cuts.
That program — Screening Colonoscopies on People Everywhere — operated in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal year, the agency said.
White’s bill now moves to the Senate, where anti-smoking advocates hope to derail or alter it.