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There's currently a debate in Jefferson City about whether to use Medicaid funds to pay for programs to prevent smoking. The irony is that Missouri has already received more than a billion dollars for smoking prevention but has managed to find other uses for the money. The funds, which came from the settlement of a lawsuit against big tobacco companies, have mostly been spent for purposes wholly unrelated to smoking.
A further irony is that Missouri is now heavily dependent on the financial viability of the companies it sued. The state budget includes more than $250 million per year in cigarette taxes and tobacco settlement funds. Do politicians really want to eliminate the source of this bonanza? My guess is that a lot of folks in the Missouri Department of Revenue are quietly cheering for the tobacco companies when multi-billion dollar lawsuits are filed against them in Madison County and elsewhere. Imagine the devastating impact on state revenue if some of these plaintiffs actually prevailed and succeeded in bankrupting some of the major producers of cigarettes.
Because Missouri has a financial interest in keeping tobacco companies in business; and because state officials seem disinclined to spend tobacco money on preventing smoking, public health officials need to look elsewhere to get people to stop smoking or not to start in the first place.
Perhaps the President of the United States should lead by example. If President Obama publicly quit smoking, he would be even more effective than the proposed Medicaid programs.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Tom Schlafly is an attorney in St. Louis.