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Smokers see little NH tax money helping them to quit

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 25. 2014 7:48PM

CONCORD - This year, New Hampshire took in about $262 million in tobacco taxes and funds from a 1998 settlement with tobacco makers that were intended to provide states with money to fund tobacco prevention efforts.

The federal Centers for Disease Control recommends that the state spend at least $16.5 million of that money on tobacco prevention and cessation efforts.

But the state, which routinely ranks among the worst in the nation in allocating resources to prevent tobacco use and help people quit smoking, spent $125,000, or 0.8 percent of that target, directly on helping people stay away from tobacco, according to the state Department of Revenue Administration.

"I think it's a drop in the bucket and doesn't really come close to addressing the needs of the people of New Hamsphire," said Kate McNally, program manager for the Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco Free Communities at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene. "We have the money and we're just not using it."

Instead, that money is kept in the state's general fund and used for all manner of state services.

"As with every budget, there are many shared priorities that we must protect while living within our means, and Governor Hassan remains committed to working across party lines to ensure a fiscally responsible, balanced budget that supports job creation and economic development while maintaining public health, public safety and our high quality of life," Hassan spokesman William Hinkle said in an email.

There is no requirement that any money from cigarette taxes or the settlement be used to curb smoking.

Hinkle said the most recent budget increases the state's allocation for tobacco cessation to $125,000 from nothing. This fiscal year was the first since the 2009 fiscal year that they spent any money on programs to prevent smoking and help people quit.

"Governor Hassan believes that tobacco use prevention and cessation programs are critical to improving the health of our communities. She increased funding for the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program in her bipartisan budget," he said.

Hinkle said the state Division of Public Health Services' smoking cessation efforts include a help line, the promotion of smoke-free housing, a media campaign and a program to offer free nicotine replacement therapy.

But the amount, which is 0.0005 percent of the amount taken in, is not enough, McNally said. She said the state's smoking-related health costs amount to $729 million.

"It's just abominable. It makes no sense," she said. "It just baffles me that we don't do the right thing."

New Hampshire charges $1.78 in taxes for every pack containing 20 cigarettes and $2.23 for each less-common pack containing 25 cigarettes. That rate for a standard 20-cigarette pack is 18th highest in the country, according to a ranking compiled by the Tobacco Free Kids organization, but ranks last among New England states.

McNally said she would advocate for an increase in the tax of $1, which would still keep the state's cigarette tax rate below Massachusetts' rate of $3.51 per pack and would be slightly above Vermont's rate of $2.62 per pack. New York has the highest rate in the country, at $4.35 per pack.

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