Northwest NEWS

August 30, 1999


Guest Editorial

Tobacco money should go to kids and health care

by Rep. Laura Ruderman, D-Redmond

   Children are our most precious resource. As they learn to navigate their world, we get to experience once again all of the joy of discovery. All of our hopes and dreams for the future are embodied in our young people. But we are facing a serious public health problem with those same children.

   From 1990 to 1998, smoking among high school seniors rose 38 percent and nearly doubled among sixth graders. The damages to our kids are all too real.

   Kids who smoke are more likely to do poorly at school and use marijuana, heroin, or cocaine. Half of all smokers will die because of tobacco-related health problems. More Americans die from smoking than from murders, fires, AIDS, car crashes, suicides, and alcohol and drug overdoses combined.

   That's why this year is a key turning point. Our own Attorney General Christine Gregoire led the national fight against the deceptive and predatory practices of tobacco companies, which have long targeted kids as potential customers and lied about the safety of cigarettes.

   As part of the settlement that Gregoire negotiated, Washington state will receive $4 billion over the next 25 years--including more than $300 million during the next two years. That much honey in the pot attracts a lot of flies. There are countless ideas, plans, and plain old schemes that floated around the Legislature on how to divert that money from prevention and health care. Gov. Gary Locke proposed using about half of the settlement money to boost health care programs for children and poor families, and the other half for anti-smoking efforts.

   Here's why we shouldn't divert any of the funds away from kids and healthcare:

   Public health, especially the health of our children, should be the focus. This is a large settlement, and the political temptation to spend it on other things will certainly affect some lawmakers. But we must remember that smoking is a dire threat to our public health, and to the future of our children.