While Nero fiddled, Rome burned. While our state Legislature fiddles around, cigarettes burn — between the fingers of our state’s young people; it’s our responsibility to do something about this crisis.
Washington state has the money to educate children about the dangers of tobacco, but the proposed budget allocates only a fraction of the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Our state received nearly $695 million in 2015 from tobacco taxes and the settlement with tobacco companies— money that we were told would fund prevention measures. Nine out of 10 lifetime smokers begin the habit before the age of 18; that's why legislators need to prioritize prevention funding now.
Washington had one of the most well-funded prevention programs in the U.S., but legislators have diverted funds from educating youth, sacrificing the health of our teenagers to run the state. This choice costs our state nearly $2 billion in annual health care costs.
By not educating children now, we are creating a lifetime of smokers. During this second session in Olympia, we must demand that legislators adequately fund tobacco prevention programs. History doesn't remember Nero fondly; today’s state legislators are traversing the same perilous road.
(Hedegaard is a volunteer with the American Cancer Society Action Network.)