COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The state could lose nearly $30 million in federal grant money aimed at discouraging young smokers because too many retailers are selling tobacco to minors.
Inspections of tobacco retailers in Ohio show that for the first time since 1998 sales to minors are above the federal compliance level. About 23 percent of retailers sold tobacco to minors during inspections that ended Sept. 30.
That could endanger 40 percent of Ohio's $71.5 million grant.
"It would be extremely harsh," said Stacey Frohnapfel, spokeswoman for the Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. "The majority of that money is going into treatment of alcoholism and addicts and prevention of youth smoking."
The state might be able to avoid fines and still get the federal grant if more money is spent on enforcement programs, said Mark Weber, spokesman for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
A national report released Tuesday shows Ohio dropped more than any other state -- from eighth to 31st -- in commitment to spend tobacco settlement money on smoking prevention programs.
Ohio's fall was attributed to the General Assembly's move last year to use the next two years of tobacco settlement money to fill holes in the state's budget.
"Last year, we gave Ohio credit for its strategy. But they are playing around with their long-term plan," said Peter Fisher, an assistant director at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
State Sen. Doug White, a southwest Ohio Republican and tobacco farmer who chairs a tobacco oversight committee, said using $240 million in settlement money for the budget shortfalls didn't hurt the state's rating.
"That had zero impact in my opinion," White said.
The majority of states have committed less than half the amount for prevention programs urged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the report issued by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association.
Ohio is spending about $22 million, 35 percent of the minimum recommended by the CDC this fiscal year, the report said. The state had intended to spend $60 million annually on prevention.
The tobacco industry agreed in November 1998 to pay out $206 billion to 46 states over 25 years to settle Medicaid lawsuits for recovery of tobacco-related health-care costs.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans every year, according to Tobacco-Free Ohio. The anti-smoking group claims that the annual cost of treating tobacco-related disease exceeds $89 billion.
Prevention programs have been proven to reduce smoking rates and ultimately save money on smoking-related illnesses.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)