Tobacco Fund Debate

With a budget shortfall of more than $300 million, Mississippi lawmakers are dealing with one of the state's leanest tightest budgets in years. To come up with needed funds, Gov. Haley Barbour is asking lawmakers to seek authority to tap into funds used for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi Initiative. This is an action which program officials call a big mistake.

"To undo the funding for the partnership is to dismantle the partnership," says Sharon Garrison, who is the communications director for The Partnership.

In 1998 the Partnership was formed. Each year it receives $20 million from the state's $4.1 billion tobacco settlement to combat tobacco use in the state.

Garrison says while the governor's intentions may be to ease the state's money woes, much of which come from rising healthcare costs, the answer is not tapping into Partnership funds. In fact, she contends that it would only make the problem worse.

"Every dollar spent on tobacco prevention is saving the state $3 in future healthcare costs, so it's an incredible return not only for our children, but for the state of healthcare funding in Mississippi," says Garrison.

According to statistics from the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, since being established, the number of students smoking in state middle schools has dropped by more than half and by about one-third for those in high school.

Meanwhile, with lawmakers yet to take action either way on the matter, Partnership officials are vowing that if legislators tap into the funds, to continue the fight in court.