Recently, Virginia's governor and many of its legislators advocated allocating 40 percent of the $4 billion tobacco settlement to road development [front page, Dec. 18]. Only 10 percent of the money would go to educate and discourage children from taking up smoking.

Sadly, people do die on state highways each day, but each day more than 100 patients in Virginia also die from the effects of smoking. As a family physician, I see the results of smoking every day. The economic costs are high because of increased health care costs, higher health insurance premiums, increased worker absenteeism and decreased productivity. The toll on physical health is even higher.

Exposure to cigarette smoke also takes a toll on children. A child living with a smoker has a 100 percent higher chance of being hospitalized with pneumonia. A child with asthma has 50 percent higher likelihood of being hospitalized if one parent smokes. Children who live in households with smokers visit their physicians more often, have more ear infections and require more surgery. They miss more school and are less likely to learn well.

U.S. health care costs account for 14 percent of our GDP. These costs will continue to climb unless we invest in modifying bad lifestyle behaviors such as cigarette smoking.

We need to spend the tobacco settlement money identifying families with smokers and increasing funding to educate older children, adolescents and smoking parents. We need smoking cessation programs in hospitals, schools and communities. Token billboard ads, TV commercials and spot radio announcements are inadequate.


Salem, Va.