ANNAPOLIS — Cancer research and substance abuse programs need to start looking for money elsewhere as the fund sustained by settlement money from lawsuits against three national tobacco companies gradually diminishes.
Maryland’s Cigarette Restitution Fund budget is down almost $820,000, or about 11 percent from last year, reflecting the decline in smoking and a decrease in tobacco spending throughout the United States.
The drop is a good thing because it corresponds to reduced cigarette purchases, said Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore City, but it means many programs that depend on the restitution fund must look elsewhere.
“We should recognize that when there’s a big effort to get people to reduce their smoking that this fund would go down. So I think that what’s in the fund now will probably sustain some of the programs,” said Pugh. “But we’re also getting information from many … cancer treatment programs that depend on the (restitution fund) that they really need the money.”
Since 2001, Maryland has received more than $1 billion of what was expected to be $4.4 billion — the share it was allotted in a settlement with tobacco companies. The state was one of 46 states, five territories and the District of Columbia that sued tobacco companies in 1996 for concealing the harmful effects of their products and to cover health-related costs from smoking. The settlement money was to be paid annually over 25 years and beyond, according to the Maryland attorney general’s Web site.
Cigarette Restitution Fund Director Carlessia Hussein agrees that more money must be found from new sources, but she also said programs need to spend money wisely and form partnerships to extend the reach of the money they do get.
Dr. William Nelson, director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, said that the Kimmel Center has collaborated with the University of Maryland’s program in the past, but budget cuts have made it difficult to continue.
The Kimmel Center doesn’t only depend on state funding, said Nelson. Federal grants and philanthropic funds are looked into regularly as well.
“We spend a lot of that time (that we would on research) trying to secure the funding for that research,” said Nelson.
The Kimmel Center made it a priority to bring “bright young minds” to its research facility in order to obtain competitive federal funding.
“We invite state folks to come out and see what we’re up to and it turns out to be a love fest because we have exciting people doing exciting things,” said Nelson. “It’s hard not to love it.”
Maryland has had some success directing its tobacco lawsuit settlement right into the Cigarette Restitution Fund and not into other uses, Hussein and Nelson said.
The fund then forwards settlement money into crop conversion, cancer research and treatment, substance abuse prevention, Medicaid, the attorney general’s legal fees and other state agencies and programs.
But not everyone is happy with the projects chosen for funding.
“A lot of the programs went into brick and mortar rather than programs that would have benefited African-Americans,” said Sen. Nathaniel Exum, D-Prince George’s. “I think more of the money should have been appropriated to our communities and to funds in our cities.”
The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids ranks the state 37th in the nation in terms of funding for tobacco prevention programs, spending 10.6 percent of the $63.3 million recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Overall, cancer mortality rates per 100,000 people have dropped from approximately 210 in 1999 to 185 in 2004, according to a report from the Cigarette Restitution Fund. The disparity between whites and African-Americans’ deaths from cancer also decreased.
Adult prevalence of smoking has declined from 20.3 percent in 1999 to 14.9 percent in 2008. Among high school youth, smoking has dropped from 23 percent in 2000 to 15.3 percent in 2008.
But the economic recession and the drop in restitution fund money is having an effect.
“The whole state is hurting. I am very distressed that across all of the programs we are very thin,” said Hussein. “I look for ways to keep the skeleton programs going.”