• In The Fight Against Tobacco Use, Ohio Has Sounded The Retreat
  • What happens when the "1-800-QUIT-NOW" cigarettes quit-line number appears on millions of packs of cigarettes in Ohio, but no one answers the phone? Last week the Food and Drug Administration revealed its choices of nine graphic warnings that will be required on every pack of discount cigarettes sold in the U.S. The rotating images include a corpse of a smoker, smoke-blackened lungs, a woman breathing through a tracheostomy and a cartoon of a child made ill by secondhand smoke. Studies in other countries where similar pictures are already required indicate that a large percentage of smokers consider quitting when repeatedly viewing these images.

    Something new will also appear on every pack: "1-800-QUIT-NOW," the national quit-line number that connects callers to experienced tobacco-cessation counselors. For smokers who are ready to quit, working with these counselors quadruples their chance of staying off cheap smokes for good. The shocking pictures help provide the motivation and the quit-line counselors offer the tools and support to beat the toughest and most deadly addiction in the world.

    That will occur in every state in the union, except Ohio. Our smokers will see the pictures, get the warnings and have the number to call, but for most callers there will be no one to help them. Unlike the other 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and 10 Canadian provinces, Ohio alone has said no to helping people quit.

    This year 19,000 Ohioans will die and another 400,000 will be made seriously ill from smoking cigarettes-related diseases. Smoking costs our state $8 billion annually in medical expenses, decreased productivity and time lost from work. Because Medicaid recipients smoke cigarettes twice as much as other Ohioans, the cost to Ohio Medicaid alone is more than $1.5billion. And, unlike the rest of the country where rates are falling, smoking cigarettes in Ohio is on the rise - up 10 percent last year.

    Until 2008, Ohio had one of the best tobacco prevention and cessation programs in the world. Funded entirely by the proceeds of the lawsuit against the tobacco companies, Ohio ran a model program that encouraged kids to refuse tobacco and helped addicted smokers quit. Smoking among Ohio's teenagers plummeted to historic lows while adults quit in unprecedented numbers. In short, Ohio implemented an effective "vaccine" for kids and real treatment for addicted adults.

    All that ended when Gov. Ted Strickland's administration sold off $10 billion in annualized payments from the tobacco companies for $5billion in one-time money and then raided Ohio's Tobacco Prevention Foundation to try to fund a one-time "stimulus" package. Ohio went overnight from best to worst. Gov. John Kasich and the current General Assembly seem determined we should stay there.

    So what happens when you kill a highly successful program that affects a deadly addiction and its attendant diseases? This month, the numbers came in. The official U.S. survey of risk behaviors showed that while smoking cigarettes in the rest of the country had dropped to 17 percent of adults, in Ohio we had actually increased our smoking cigarettes rate to over 22 percent, rivaled only by West Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

    Unfortunately, we cannot compare Ohio high-school smoking cigarettes with the rest of the country, as the Ohio Department of Health wasn't able to complete the federally sponsored 2010 Ohio Youth Tobacco Survey. What a shame; what a coincidence?

    If the adult disparity holds over the long term, each year 4,000 extra premature deaths will occur in Ohio, compared with what we would expect at a 17 percent smoking cigarettes rate. We will pay out an additional $2 billion each year in expenses we could have spared. Why? Ohio politicians seem uniquely captive to tobacco sellers. Current legislative leaders listen not to parents, doctors or taxpayers; they listen to their big-time donors: the convenience store operators, the grocers, the wholesalers and the manufacturers.

    Ohio takes in more than $900million annually from tobacco taxes but won't spend a dime to reduce the incredible toll on Ohio's kids and nicotine-addicted adults. Instead of paying $2 million for a toll-free number, Ohioans will be paying a terrible toll in tens of thousands of lives and tens of billions of dollars.