In a state where more than one of every four adults smoke, tobacco is an issue in every county, but it’s rare for weekly newspapers to take a detailed look at the issue. The Harrodsburg Herald did that recently, in a three-part series by Robert Moore.
Moore explored why Mercer County and the state have relatively little money for tobacco prevention, writing, “Kentucky doesn’t seem all that interested in fighting tobacco. In 2014 the state will receive $158.7 million in tobacco settlement money and spend only $2.5 million to help smokers quit and prevent kids from starting, according to the Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy.”
The states’ lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers, and the Master Settlement Agreement that followed, was ostensibly to recover their costs for treating illnesses due to smoking. However, most of the money has gone to general purposes, and in Kentucky half the money was dedicated to improving the agricultural economy — but the legislature steered some of that money elsewhere, mainly for rural water lines, Moore noted.
“The largest single use of tobacco funds now is debt service,” he wrote. “Every year, $28 million of the MSA payment goes to pay interest on $434,883,200 in outstanding municipal bonds. The bonds financed various construction projects over the last decade—$20 million for construction of the UK Veterinary Diagnostic Center in Lexington and $2 million for renovations to the FFA Leadership Training Center in Hardinsburg, both in 2008.”
Another story explored the growing phenomenon of electronic cigarettes, and the other looked at efforts to curb smoking, statewide and locally. Moore looked at lobbying and campaign-finance reports from Altria Group, the leading cigarette manufacturer, and wrote about efforts by the Burgin High School chapter of Teens Against Tobacco Use to have smoking banned on their campus.
In a more recent story, Moore updated the Burgin issue, concluding, “Until something changes in the state legislature, schools like Burgin will be the most important battlegrounds in the fight against tobacco-related deaths.”