Lack of anti-smoking ads leads to more cigarette sales in state

LYNN – When the anti-smoking advertisements disappear, cigarette sales increase significantly in Massachusetts.That’s the gist of a study released Wednesday by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which notes that state residents purchased an average of 44.1 packs of cigarettes per capita in 2006, up from 42.7 packs in 2005.Anti-tobacco organizations blamed the 3.2 percent spike in sales on the elimination of funds for the state’s aggressive and award-winning anti-smoking advertising campaign. The jump bucked the national trend, where cigarette sales continue to fall.Despite the statewide increase, cigarette sales in Massachusetts remain lower than the national average, which last year was 61.1 packs per capita.”The new data is more than a wake-up call. It’s an alarm bell,” said Matthew Myers, president of the national advocacy group. “The impact of the cut in the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program is real and will have long-term consequences if not immediately reversed.”Joyce Redford, director of the Lynn-based North Shore Tobacco Control Program, said the cigarette sales increase isn’t as pronounced in communities where stores are kept in compliance.”With our contract grant, we’re able to conduct three compliance checks, or what we call stings, per year in every community that we cover. That means about 500 stores, or 1,500 compliance checks,” said Redford, noting the North Shore group keeps watch over cigarette sales in Lynn, Saugus, Swampscott, Nahant, Peabody, Marblehead, Beverly, Salem and Danvers.”In Saugus and Lynn there are consistent compliance checks,” she said. “But where there is no vigilance, there is trickle-down effect.” Redford cited Winthrop as a community that no longer receives funding for anti-tobacco initiatives.”The new study isn’t good news, but equally alarming is that so many communities have had their funding cut and can no longer do compliance checks,” she said. “Some of those cutbacks occurred under the administration of former Gov. Swift. The Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program suffered 90-percent cuts.”According to Redford, the North Shore control program once extended its compliance checks north to Gloucester and Rockport. “It used to be called the coastal control program. Now Gloucester does its checks through its Board of Health, and Beverly became part of our collaborative.”Redford said the cigarette sales figures are “staggering” given that in unmonitored communities tobacco products are sold to minors 40 percent of the time, while the rate drops to 10 percent in towns and cities with routine compliance checks.Myers was scheduled to discuss the statewide increase with Gov. Deval Patrick and request restoration of millions of dollars to the state’s tobacco control program. During the administrations of Jane Swift and Mitt Romney, the tobacco control budget was sliced from $54.3 million during the 2000 budget year to $2.5 million in 2004.Patrick’s budget proposal calls for spending $16 million on tobacco control.”We have removed from the equation the ways of getting people to quit smoking, while in the tobacco industry, it’s business as usual,” said Greg Connolly, a Harvard School of Public Health professor who formerly ran the state’s tobacco control program.Myers said the funding cuts to tobacco control programs between 2000 and 2002 amounted to 95 percent.”Increase in tobacco use should serve as the proverbial dead canary in the coalmine,” he said. “It’s concrete evidence that more people are smoking more cigarettes, and that will lead to an increase of cancer and heart disease. There is also evidence that there has been a substantial increase in illegal sales to children.”When anti-smoking programs were heavily funded, between 1992 and 2003, tobacco consumption decreased by 47 percent, said Myers, adding, “That decline was twice the national average. But now, even though smoking continues to go down nationally, it’s going up in Massachusetts.”Interestingly enough, the study relies on d

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