Massachusetts ranks 37th in the nation when it comes to funding anti-tobacco efforts, and tobacco control specialists in Berkshire County — where the smoking rate is above the statewide average — say the state’s financial strain is impacting smoking cessation and prevention efforts.
“This is the life we live now,” said Joan Rubel, project coordinator of the Northern Berkshire Tobacco-Free Community Partnership at Berkshire AHEC. “I think what’s in place in the state is an infrastructure at a very low level of tobacco cessation and prevention work.”
At North Adams Regional Hospital’s REACH for Community Health tobacco treatment program, the last state grant expired in June. To stay afloat, the program is depending on one in-house grant that will not last through 2011, said Linda Thomas, REACH’s tobacco treatment specialist. REACH is seeking other grants for future funding.
“This is the only treatment program in this area, so if it were cut, who’s going to provide the service?” Thomas said.
Smoking rates in North Adams are among the highest in the state at 30 percent, according to 2008 figures from the state Department of Health. The statewide average is 15 percent according to 2010 national statistics.
The nationwide rankings of tobacco control funding among the 50 states were compiled by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Society and other health care groups. The measures included programs that keep kids away from tobacco and help smokers quit. Released in November, the report points to the frustration among tobacco control advocates that so little money from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes goes toward prevention.
Massachusetts will receive $821 million through these tobacco-related funds this year, and spend only 0.5 percent of that — $4.5 million — on prevention and cessation.
“A large amount of money is coming into the state, but it’s not going to fund tobacco prevention work,” Rubel said.
Recent budget cuts have eliminated several state programs aimed at preventing youths from using tobacco, according to state Department of Public Health spokeswoman Julia Hurley.
State programs to help pregnant women quit smoking are gone, Hurley said, as is the state tobacco control program’s advertising budget. The cuts also forced reductions in the Massachusetts Smokers’ Helpline hours.
Tobacco companies have also developed new ways of selling tobacco: Thomas said smokeless tobacco has become more popular among teens, who manage to get unsuspecting parents to buy it for them because, based on its packaging, they believe it’s gum.
Berkshire Medical Center’s tobacco cessation program director Carol McMahon said that youth tobacco use has become a larger problem because anti-tobacco marketing funds have been slashed.
State funding for BMC’s program fell through in 2001, McMahon said, and the hospital has since been supporting the program. This past year, a 32-hour position was cut.
“That only leaves one full-time equivalent and one 16-hour [position], which is nowhere near enough to address the tobacco problems in Central Berkshire,” McMahon said.
Pittsfield’s smoking rate is 26 percent, according to 2008 statistics from the DPH. McMahon said she sees an average of 800 people each year who are trying to quit.