IF ALL GOES as proposed by Gov. Glendening, Maryland's use of its tobacco settlement money may become a model for the rest of the states. The formula, embraced in principle by the state legislature earlier this year, is based on a simple, solid notion: that tobacco money ought to be spent preventing and repairing the ravages of smoking. This hasn't been the pattern so far. The governor noted in announcing the Maryland initiative that other states are thinking of their smoking windfalls as money to burn on almost anything: new sidewalks, tax cuts and even renovations of a state morgue.
"I do not see this as `easy money' to spend foolishly," Gov. Glendening said, but rather as "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to intensify cancer research efforts, to develop stronger anti-smoking programs and to help tobacco farmers shift to growing "profitable, life-sustaining crops." Maryland needs to step up the spending on all these fronts, as some grim statistics cited by the governor point up. Each day on average, 66 Maryland residents are diagnosed with cancer, 28 people die from cancer, the state's Medicaid program spends $379,000 to treat cancer patients -- and 59 children start to smoke.
Under the governor's plan, $1 billion would be spent over the next 10 years on cancer research, anti-smoking campaigns and programs to end tobacco farming. The assistance to farmers is to include loans and grants for new equipment, tools, irrigation systems for alternative crops and compensation for losses suffered in the conversions. In addition to the $1 billion, about $700 million would be spent on education programs over the 10 years.
Both Virginia and the District have work to do on their tobacco-settlement spending. The District has yet to commit any significant amounts of money to anti-smoking programs. Discussions between Mayor Williams and the D.C. Council have concentrated on spending some of the settlement on school construction and repairs. Virginia so far has devoted about 10 percent of its share to tobacco-prevention programs. Both jurisdictions need to develop long-term programs.
What distinguishes the Maryland response, health experts note, is its scope and detail. Said Bill Novelli, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, "From the standpoint of a governor's enthusiasm, legislative support and the support of the public health community, Maryland is leading the way right now."