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Release: Sept. 7, 1999

Survey: Rural Iowans support tobacco prevention, cessation programs

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Most rural Iowans support using money resulting from the state's lawsuit against tobacco companies to fund smoking prevention and cessation programs, according to a survey conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa College of Public Health and the University of Northern Iowa.

Survey participants were asked in July to choose the "most desirable" and "least desirable" way to spend the tobacco settlement money from a list of several possible options. Of 420 rural adults interviewed, 29 percent thought the first priority should be smoking prevention and cessation. One quarter of those surveyed favored support for K-12 educational programs and 20 percent favored providing health insurance for the poor. Only 11 percent said lowering state taxes was the "most desirable" use of the settlement money. Twenty-seven percent thought lowering state taxes was the "least desirable" use of the money, with the next closest item, smoking cessation, considered the lowest at 14 percent.

"Almost all of the survey respondents want the money to be used for worthwhile purposes, such as preventing kids from starting smoking, addressing the needs of Iowa's K-12 educational system and providing health care to those who cannot afford insurance," said Paul Pomrehn, M.D., professor and interim head of community and behavioral health at the college.

Researchers at the UI and UNI conducted the telephone survey to understand how the public thinks the $1.9 billion tobacco settlement should be spent. The $1.9 billion is Iowa's share of the more than $200 billion settlement that was negotiated by the attorneys general from 40 states and the tobacco industry.

In response to a question about the proportion of the settlement money that should be used for prevention and cessation programs, 53 percent thought using one-fourth of the money for tobacco prevention/cessation was "about right." Twenty-seven percent thought one-fourth was "too little," 12 percent "too much" and 8 percent had no opinion.

This fall, the state legislature will debate how the tobacco settlement money should be spent. An initial payment of $135 million is due by June 2000.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that tobacco-related illnesses cost Iowa taxpayers $1 billion per year. The tobacco industry spends $55 million promoting tobacco products in Iowa alone," Pomrehn said. "Currently, our state lacks a comprehensive approach to

dealing with tobacco as a public health problem. Other states that have comprehensive programs have not experienced the increase in tobacco use like Iowa has. Our survey results indicate that Iowans believe that at least a quarter of this settlement should be spent addressing the problem of tobacco use among kids and supporting adults who are quitting smoking."

In addition to Pomrehn, the research was conducted by Sonali Patel, graduate student in the UI College of Public Health; and Mary Losch, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and assistant director of the Center for Social and Behavioral Research at UNI.

The survey was funded by the UI Environmental Health Sciences Research Center.