States and the District, combined, have access to billions of dollars from tobacco taxes and tobacco industry legal settlements to help decrease smoking rates and prevent tobacco use. The District collects $68.4 million annually in tobacco taxes and legal settlement funds, almost 50 times the amount the District will spend this year on tobacco-control programs.
Smoking rates among the District’s most vulnerable show that it should renew its commitment to robust funding for smoking-prevention and smoking-cessation programs. Instead, the District seems to be moving in the opposite direction. As a part of a one-time funding cut to address this year’s $215 million budget shortfall, the D.C. Council reduced funding for tobacco prevention and control programs to just $1.4 million, or only 12.7 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended spending.
Smoking costs the District $391 million every year in health-care costs. Along with lung and heart problems, smoking can cause eye disease, skin problems and many cancers, including pancreatic and bladder cancer. Smoking also causes more than $280.4 million in lost productivity costs, such as poor worker health that leads to absences.
More resources for smoking cessation have the potential to help thousands of residents quit. According to the CDC, nearly seven in 10 adult cigarette smokers wanted to stop smoking and more than four in 10 adult cigarette smokers made a quit attempt in the past year.
Additionally, some key vulnerable populations in the district continue to go unrecognized and underserved: While smoking accounts for 20 percent of deaths in the United States, half of deaths among the mentally ill can be attributed to tobacco use.
Despite this, smoking-cessation programs for individuals with mental illness lack necessary support at both the state and federal level. Quit-smoking counseling and treatment plans are not integrated into most mental and behavioral health prevention or intervention programs, and only one in four mental-health facilities nationwide offers any type of quit-smoking services.
To help raise awareness and provide support to all residents and those especially vulnerable individuals trying to quit, the District is celebrating its second annual “DC Calls It Quits” awareness through Sunday. This District-wide effort unites more than 40 community and health organizations, businesses and public agencies. During this week, local groups partner to highlight the importance of quitting smoking and available resources and information to help DC residents quit for good.
DC Calls It Quits week is a critical first step to helping every smoker in the District become tobacco free. Quitting a tobacco addiction is one of the best choices any person can make for his health and for the health of the District as a whole.
Carla Williams is an associate professor of medicine at Howard University and interim director of the Howard University Cancer Center.