CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – The West Virginia House of Delegates on Wednesday passed a bill that aims to dedicate funding to cessation and prevention programs for tobacco and vaping.
House Bill 4494 would direct 25 percent of the previous year’s interest earnings from the Revenue Shortfall Reserve Fund Part B into a new special revenue program fund. The bill also would create a task force to establish aggressive evidence-based programs to address tobacco and vaping.
After 46 states, including West Virginia, settled lawsuits against tobacco companies in 1998 for $1.8 billion, West Virginia took some of the settlement money to shore up teachers’ retirement. The rest went into the Revenue Shortfall Reserve Fund Part B.
Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, the lead sponsor of the bill, said the fund generates in excess of $20 million a year in interest, depending on the market. The fund now has in excess of $470 million.
“None of that money is being used to help a huge driver of negative health effects in this state,” Bates said. “We lead the nation in tobacco-related illness and have the highest percentage of smokers who are expectant mothers. Teen vaping has exploded in this state. We have to get ahead of this.”
Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, a co-sponsor of the bill, explained the bill will not result in new taxes.
“This results in no new taxes, no new premium increases, and no new restrictions on liberty,” Cowles said. “Instead, this bill helps people quit tobacco, smokeless tobacco, and vaping.
“People in bordering counties in the Eastern Panhandle can cross into Maryland and go to the tri-state health clinics. If they go to these clinics, folks there will be willing to give you support, but in West Virginia, there is nothing like that to help you out,” Cowles added. “This will set up a process through the medical community for evidence-based efforts to help people.”