High Smoking Rates For Blacks Underscore Calls For State Anti-Tobacco Action


African-American health advocates are hoping the state will put more money into anti-smoking efforts.

Smoking rates are down for many demographic groups, but African-Americans still have one of the highest rates. Crystal West is a volunteer health counselor in a predominantly black Milwaukee neighborhood.

West says tobacco companies continue to tempt low-income people with coupons and other deals: “You can go into any corner store and buy any Tiparillos, two packs for a dollar. So you’re getting anywhere from four long cigarettes or tobacco products. And they’re smoking them.”

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West, joined by groups like the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association, are calling for more state spending aimed at preventing smoking.

At one point, Wisconsin put about $23 million per year into anti-tobacco efforts. That figure slipped to $5 million in the current state budget, and Governor Walker is not proposing an increase for the next two years. But state representative Jon Richards says more money could be found for the program by putting a tax on some tobacco products that are now exempt: “Like, these mini-cigars that are often flavored in fruit flavors that appeal mainly to children. And those are not taxed like cigarettes. We should tax those and use that money to prevent tobacco use.”

Richards is a Democrat from Milwaukee. He says he will try to convince the Republican majority on the legislature’s budget committee that putting more money into anti-smoking efforts will lead to bigger savings on health care.

Governor Walker’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Walker’s big anti-tobacco proposal is to slap a $50 per month fee on state employees who smoke.