Agency’s tobacco funding is a must
As a medical professional, I spend a lot of time figuring out how I can best treat — and hopefully cure — patients’ diseases. I’m also committed to doing everything I can to prevent Oklahomans from getting sick in the first place.
Nearly one-third of cancer deaths in Oklahoma are attributable to smoking, and the state spends $1.6 billion a year on related health care costs. Although smoking rates among adults have fallen, nearly one in five adult Oklahomans still smokes.
Native Americans are particularly likely to be smokers. Nationally, Native Americans have the highest smoking rate, nearly 22 percent, of any racial or ethnic group.
Our state’s progress in reducing smoking is due in large part to Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, which uses money from the 1998 tobacco settlement to fund initiatives focused on preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease, Oklahoma’s leading causes of death.
We are fortunate that TSET enables the state to fund programs to prevent kids from using tobacco and help smokers quit. But another key part of our success is the strong support Oklahoma receives from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC’s “Tips from Former Smokers” media campaign, which depicts the real-life health consequences of smoking, has been a major public health success. Since its launch in 2012, the campaign has motivated about 5 million smokers to try to quit, helped about 500,000 quit successfully and saved at least 50,000 lives. At a cost of less than $400 for each year of life saved, it is considered a “best buy” in public health — and is much cheaper than treating a cancer patient.
The CDC also develops best practices for effective tobacco prevention and cessation programs, provides support for tobacco cessation quit lines in every state, and works with states to conduct surveys on tobacco use among youth and adults. In Oklahoma, the CDC provides funding specifically for reducing tobacco use among tribal citizens.
The CDC can only prevent tobacco use effectively if it is adequately funded. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees CDC funding. While Cole has been a champion for public health, last summer his bill proposed cutting the CDC’s tobacco control efforts by nearly one-fourth, putting proven programs like Tips at risk and threatening to reduce the essential assistance the CDC provides to states. Fortunately, this bill was not enacted into law, and with Cole’s support, funding for CDC’s tobacco prevention and cessation efforts were slightly increased in the final 2018 funding bill signed into law in March.
As Congress begins to draft its appropriations bills for 2019, I encourage Cole to use his leadership role to ensure that the CDC’s tobacco programs are funded at least at $216.5 million.
Oklahoma has come a long way in the battle against tobacco. To finish the fight, our elected officials at all levels must ensure that Oklahomans continue to benefit from effective programs to prevent kids from using tobacco and help smokers quit. By doing so, we can greatly reduce the number of patients who come through the doors of our hospital for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Taubman is president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
Dr. Kevin Taubman