RALEIGH, N.C. — It is the ultimate irony: Though tobacco helped build the bedrock of North Carolina's economy, it is estimated that smoking costs North Carolina about $4 billion a year in healthcare and lost productivity.
Now, the state will spend more money to keep tobacco out of the hands of teens.
North Carolina will raise spending on teenage-smoking prevention by 75 percent starting next year.
Every day, 3,000 teens start smoking across America. Statistics show tobacco will kill one in three.
At that rate, more than 200,000 North Carolina children will die prematurely from smoking.
"We know it's time to increase the investment in this really important effort in North Carolina," Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue said Thursday.
That effort is preventing youth tobacco use through local grants to community groups and a paid media campaign. The state's
Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission
will pour an extra $4.7 million a year into the program -- increasing the commitment to $10.9 million.
The Health and Wellness Fund Commission will redirect tobacco settlement money to help pay for the ongoing teen smoking prevention programs.
The investment comes a year after the
American Lung Association
slapped North Carolina with a failing grade for its anti-smoking programs.
The increase has earned praise from health groups but still is well below federal recommendations.
"This improvement in the funding base will bring the state up to a passing grade," said Deborah Bryan, of the American Lung Association of North Carolina. "But, we all know passing is not enough."
Health advocacy groups vow to keep pressing state lawmakers to hike taxes on tobacco products.
"We know that price is the single factor that most influences youth initiation and use," Bryan said.
That is a tall order in a state still protective of its tobacco background.
The Lt. Governor said spending more on smoking prevention is the right thing, whether it is politically correct or a political risk
"Whether it's an excise tax this year, or next year, or never, they're into this game with me," Perdue said.
The commission already has issued grants to 30 organizations, created an anti-smoking radio ad campaign and beefed up anti-smoking efforts in schools and among pregnant teenagers.
Bryan said the increase should remove North Carolina from a list of states receiving failing marks for anti-smoking efforts.