$700M in tobacco taxes annually, but NJ hasn’t funded anti-smoking program
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that New Jersey spend more than $103 million a year on anti-smoking programs, or almost $73 million as a bare minimum.
Currently, the state spends nothing, except for close to $3 million in federal funds.
And this is the fifth straight year it has spent none of its own money.
A bill moving through the Legislature may change that, though only slightly. A proposal to commit 5 percent of cigarette tax revenues to smoking programs is advancing, but it was scaled back to just 1 percent to gain the support of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration and, presumably, avoid a veto.
The difference means that instead of $33 million a year, comparable to the heyday of anti-smoking efforts from 2001 to 2003, the state would spend around $6.7 million.
“It’s a ridiculously low number, and we’ve woefully underfunded this for a long time,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, chairman of the Senate Health Committee.
Advocacy groups welcomed the modest restoration.
“We’re obviously very in support of this. New Jersey hasn’t had funding for anti-tobacco programs for about five years,” said Corrine Orlando, director of government relations for the American Heart Association. “We’re the only state that funds the program at zero, so we really are supportive of increasing that and dedicating something to this.”
New Jersey’s cigarette tax acts as an anti-smoking incentive of its own at $2.70 a pack, the nation’s ninth-highest.
The state expects to collect around $700 million this year in tobacco taxes, including a wholesale tax, and it gets more than $200 million a year from the state’s share of the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies.
Close to $400 million in revenue from the cigarette tax is directed to hospitals for charity care for the uninsured, and more than $100 million goes to repay past borrowing. Only about $150 million goes into the state’s general fund.
New Jersey has steadily whittled away at its spending on anti-smoking efforts for more than a decade. After spending $30 million a year from 2001 to 2003, it has spent around $75 million total in the last 14 years combined – including nothing since fiscal 2012.
Last December, the Senate Health Committee endorsed the 5 percent dedication to anti-smoking programs, but the bill sputtered in the budget committee as the legislative session ended. In March, the Assembly Budget Committee voted for the 5 percent dedication.
When Sen. Brian Stack’s bill was considered Thursday by the Senate Health Committee, it was amended to a 1 percent dedication. Vitale said that was done because the Christie administration indicated it would support the bill at that level.
Orlando and other health-care groups backed the bill but regretted the change.
“We would like to see a little bit more, maybe at like 2.5 percent to 3 percent, just given the fact that we haven’t had a program in place for five years, so there’s a lot of infrastructure that has disappeared,” Orlando said. “We’d like to see it funded at a higher level, just to replace some of those resources.”
Vitale said that would have to wait and alluded to next year’s governor’s race, in which Christie can’t run because of term limits.
“I think we can look forward to a year and a half from now when there might be a change in vision on this particular issue and see a greater increase,” Vitale said.
Smoking contributes to around 11,800 deaths a year in New Jersey and more than $4 billion in additional medical costs, according to the CDC.