New Jersey spends far less on smoking cessation programs than it used to – around $10 million, primarily from federal funds, a far cry from the $30 million it used to spend and the $103 million recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That may change, a little, if a bill that sailed through the Senate budget committee Thursday makes it into law. It’s only one vote from reaching Gov. Chris Christie’s desk and so far has secured 90 votes in favor and only one opposed.

The proposal (S862/A3338) would dedicate 1 percent of the roughly $700 million a year the state collects from cigarette taxes, or $7 million, to anti-smoking initiatives. It’s a step in the right direction, said Karen Blumenfeld, executive director of Global Advisors on Smokefree Policy.

“Well, $7 million is a lot better than what we have right now,” Blumenfeld said. “Whatever type of funding is available to help people not start and to help those who are exposed to second-hand smoke and to help people quit is invaluable.”

Sen. Brian Stack, D-Hudson, the plan’s primary sponsor in the Senate, said it’s important to fund smoking cessation programs – and at two-hundreths of a percent of the state budget, should be an amount easy to absorb.

“When you look at the total amount of money that’s spent in the state, I think this would be small and I think it would be something that definitely helps people,” Stack said.

Brian Shott of the American Cancer Society said the $7 million will eventually lead to 1,100 fewer premature smoking-related deaths and a nearly $68 million decrease in future health expenditures.

“This bill is a critical first step in ensuring that tobacco users in New Jersey are equipped with the resources that they need to quit their addictions and that others never start,” Shott said.

“These programs, even though there is an expenditure for the state initially, they have been shown to have a significant return on investment,” said Corrine Orlando of the American Heart Association.

Stack says hospital bills for cancer treatment can run hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Look, whatever you can spend on prevention definitely helps down the road with treatment,” Stack said. “We’d save money in the long run and save lives.”

Lawmakers also advanced bills Thursday that would raise the smoking age in New Jersey from 19 to 21 and require e-cigarette retailers, wholesalers and distributors to be licensed by the state.

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