North Dakota Is Spending Far Too Much Money On Tobacco Prevention

UPDATE: A reader emails to say the article is a little misleading. North Dakota isn’t second in total dollars spent, but rather second in dollars spent as a percentage of tobacco funds received. That makes more sense, though the other points stand.

Somehow tiny North Dakota, with a population of just under 650,000 citizens, has managed to get ranked #2 in the nation in spending on tobacco prevention numbers. And, you’ll notice, these don’t appear to be per-capita spending numbers either. This is apparently raw spending on tobacco prevention.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – North Dakota is ranked second in the nation and South Dakota eighth in the funding of programs to prevent youths from smoking and to help smokers quit.

The annual rankings were released Wednesday by a coalition of public health groups including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Cancer Society. The report says North Dakota spends $9.3 million a year on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, and South Dakota spends $4 million.

Even if you believe that the government has a role to play in manipulating people’s personal habits (I happen to think that tobacco use is a personal choice that’s none of the government’s business), all this spending isn’t proving to be very effective. Despite this nation-leading amount of spending on tobacco prevention, North Dakota still ranks 24th in tobacco use.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of correlation between government tobacco prevention programs and tobacco use.

But government tobacco prevention has become big business. It started back when current US Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp was Attorney General and, apparently in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions, appointed trial lawyer Jack McConnell to be the state’s legal counsel in the tobacco class action lawsuits, service for which McConnell is still collecting millions annually.

Then in 2008 Heitkamp backed a ballot measure that passed (largely because it was overshadowed by the Legacy Fund and income tax cuts measures) and created in North Dakota an agency dedicated entirely to tobacco prevention. What’s next, a new temperance board to try and stop alcohol consumption too? Seems to me we tried that, too, once upon a time and it didn’t work so hot.

Anyway, now we in North Dakota spend more on tobacco prevention that just about every other state in the nation. Fat lot of good it’s doing us.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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