Utah ranks 26th in the nation in using money from the 1998 state tobacco settlement to protect youth.
A report released by a coalition of public health organizations found that Utah spends 39.4 percent of the minimum amount recommended by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tobacco prevention.
The CDC has recommended that Utah allocate a minimum of $15.23 million a year on tobacco prevention and the state's actual spending is $6 million.
"Utah has made a good start toward protecting its kids from tobacco, but its ultimate success depends on whether it continues to property fund and implement its tobacco prevention program," indicated William Corr, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids vice president.
"We have conclusive evidence from around the country that tobacco prevention programs work to protect kids, save lives and save money for taxpayers by reducing tobacco-related health care costs," pointed out Corr. "Even in these difficult budget times, tobacco prevention remains one of the smartest and most fiscally responsible investments that Utah can make."
The evaluation, entitled Show Us The Money: An Update on the States' Allocation of the Tobacco Settlement Dollars, was sponsored by the campaign, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and American Lung Association.
The report was released as legislative bodies reconvened across the nation, with many states poised to raid tobacco settlement money to cover budget shortfalls.
The tobacco settlement will provide states with $246 billion during the next 25 years. The CDC recommends that states spend approximately 20 percent to 25 percent of the money on effective, comprehensive prevention programs.
However, the report found that only five states - Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Minnesota - are currently funding tobacco prevention at less than half the CDC minimum.
Additional results indicate:
Only 19 states have committed even 50 percent of the minimum funding level recommended by the CDC.
Sixteen states have committed between 25 percent and 50 percent of the minimum amount recommended by the CDC.
Twelve states have committed less than 25 percent of the minimum amount recommended by the CDC.
Three states and the District of Columbia have committed no settlement money or a major funding source to tobacco prevention.
In addition, the evaluation determined that several states are raiding money previously committed to tobacco prevention to address budget shortfalls.
"These are penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions that ignore the evidence that tobacco prevention programs not only reduce smoking and save lives, but save far more money than they cost by reducing smoking-caused health care expenditures," indicated the report.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans annually. Nearly 90 percent of all smokers start at or before age 18.
Every day in the U.S., 5,000 kids try a first cigarette and 2,000 youth become regular smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result.
In Utah, 11.9 percent of high school students currently smoke and 4,300 youth become regular, daily smokers every year. Utah received $27.5 million in tobacco settlement money in 2001.
Since starting a statewide program in 1998, Florida has cut smoking rates by 47 percent among middle school students and 30 percent among high school students. The decline represents nearly 75,000 fewer youth smokers and more than 24,000 fewer premature smoking deaths.
Since 1997, Maine has cut smoking by 36 percent among high school students, while Oregon has cut smoking by 42 percent among eighth graders.
Recent studies show that California, which started the nation's oldest tobacco prevention program in 1989, has saved tens of thousands of lives by reducing smoking-caused birth complications, heart disease, strokes and lung cancer, according to the health care coalition.
Studies confirm that California is saving more than $3 in smoking-caused health care costs for every dollar allocated to tobacco prevention.
And Massachusetts, which started the state's program in 1993, is saving more than $2 for every dollar spent on tobacco prevention, concluded the nationwide campaign.