By Jim Mendoza| December 16, 2014 at 10:37 PM HST - Updated July 2 at 3:20 AM
A new national report called "Broken Promises to Our Children: A State-by-State Look at the 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 16 Years Later" ranks Hawaii fifth for how it spends tobacco settlement money on prevention programs.
"Prevention is absolutely key," said Jessica Yamauchi, executive director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii.
But the report criticizes the state for cutting funding for tobacco prevention by 30 percent in the past three years. The report goes on to say more of the money Hawaii gets from tobacco companies should go to prevention efforts.
The state Department of Health is limited in how much it can spend.
"The law does stipulate that we cannot spend more then 50 percent of the principal that's there. There is a threshold that we have to watch," said Lola Irvin, DOH Tobacco Settlement Project Manager.
Yamauchi said other interests grab tobacco settlement money.
"The intention really was that this would be then used for tobacco prevention and control. And instead in many states it's being used to balance budgets," she said.
Next year Hawaii will get about $50 million from the settlement states made with tobacco companies. The report said only 4.5 percent will go to prevention programs. Irvin estimates it to be closer to 6.5 percent. Despite fewer dollars, she believes the state spends the money wisely.
"That's what matters, right? We're here to save lives. To prevent kids from starting and then to help smokers quit," she said.
"The Tobacco Quit Line has been very effective. And dollars from the tobacco settlement have gone to support that," DOH Tobacco Prevention and Education Program director Lila Johnson said.
The report recommends that all counties in Hawaii mandate a person be at least 21 to buy tobacco products. It's law in more than 40 municipalities nationwide.
"When the Big Island did it just last year, they were the fourth. So you can see that it's truly a growing trend," Yamauchi said.
The report calls on Hawaii to restore the 30 percent cut from funding of tobacco prevention. In the next year, the state plans to turn out more tobacco prevention messages, using the money it has to try to snuff out teen smoking.