Triad, NC -- North Carolina legislators have cut funding to a program many agree has been successful in preventing high school students from smoking and helping those who already smoke, stop.
In a 1998 settlement, tobacco companies agreed to pay states billions of dollars in restitution.
North Carolina will make $433 million from that settlement and tobacco taxes in 2013.
However, a new report by a coalition of public health organizations reveals state lawmakers have decided not to spend any of that money on tobacco prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control suggests the state spends just over $100 million on tobacco prevention programs.
The coalition includes: the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.
In 2012, North Carolina was among the top the top half of states in the nation when it comes to funding prevention. But in a the new report by the coalition, in 2013 the state will tie three others in last place.
Here's the rub, everyone agrees, data suggests prevention programs in the state have worked. In 2001 almost 27.8% percent of high school students smoked.
By 2011 that dropped to16 percent.
And even with prevention, the coalition says more than 11,000 kids start smoking every year in North Carolina.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) believes the state has broken its promise and in taking away the program's funding, lawmakers are taking children in the state on a dangerous path.
"In North Carolina tobacco companies spend about $321 million just in marketing and advertising their products. The state has to do something to combat that and to help kids understand that this is a life decision," said Christine Weason, the government relations director for ACS.
News 2 reached out to more than a dozen of North Carolina's state lawmakers to ask them to explain their decision.
The ones we spoke with say they realize taking the money, fixes a short term budget issue but creates a long term health problem.
However, Representative Stan Bingham says considering the budget shortfall the state was in, he still stands by the legislature's decision.
"Naturally, I regret and I hated that we had to make these cuts but it's a tough decision we had to make," he said in a phone interview. "This is not something that was an easy decision for any of us. But we had to balance the budget."
It's worth noting that the state's budget gap was $2.5 billion last fiscal year and law makers are still working to fill the hole.
According to the coalition's website Tobaccofreekids.org, smoking costs businesses in North Carolina $3.5 billion every single year.
The site also explains, North Carolina taxpayers pay to cover the health care costs associated with smoking-related illnesses.
On average, that costs each household $561 a year.
Rep. Bingham says he hopes once the state is back on track budget-wise, that the funding to the program would be restored.
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