Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Indy Star Column: Smoking Prevention takes big new hit in budget

Thanks to Matthew Tully of the Indianapolis Star for another great column:

Smoking prevention takes big hit in new budget

By definition, bottom-line budget decisions are usually regrettable. That's because they're often made with short-term goals in mind, regardless of long-term consequences.

Gov. Mitch Daniels and Indiana lawmakers made one such decision in the closing days of this year's legislative session: They took a whack out of the state's well-respected but perpetually underfunded anti-smoking program. The decision to slash spending on the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation program was not surprising; plenty of other programs took hits this year. But the size of the cut -- roughly 33 percent -- stunned many working hard to reduce the state's smoking rate.

"It's a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the state budget," Aaron Doeppers, Midwest director for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said of the $5.35 million cut. "But it's a huge amount of money for tobacco prevention.

"I don't understand it."

How could he?

The state in recent years has actually taken a number of steps suggesting it was finally getting serious about anti-smoking efforts. The governor pushed through a major cigarette tax increase in 2007, many local communities have adopted no-smoking ordinances, and a new report shows a significant drop in the rate of smoking by Indiana youths.

Meanwhile, Daniels and lawmakers had been in agreement earlier in the year: The anti-smoking program's spending, which comes mainly from the 1998 tobacco settlement, would be cut by about 10 percent -- from $16.2 million to $14.5 million. That cut was big, but still similar to those other programs faced.

"We understood," Doeppers said. "You have to take your lumps and say, 'We're willing to go along with this just like everybody else.' "

As lawmakers moved into a special session, though, the anti-smoking program took a uniquely large hit -- down to $10.85 million. While that is the same amount the state spent on anti-smoking programs in 2007, it is a drop from the past two years and woefully short of the $32 million the program received in its earliest years. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by the way, recommends Indiana spend more than $30 million on the program.

Facing cuts, the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation (ITPC) board will gather Thursday to craft a vastly scaled-down spending plan. The impact will be felt by those struggling to give up their cigarettes, and those trying to help them. Spending on the state's successful Tobacco Quitline -- (800) 784-8669 -- will take a bruising. Meanwhile, much-needed grants for local groups throughout the state, many of which finance campaigns aimed at children, will be hit hard.

Karla Sneegas, ITPC's executive director, said the cuts to the Quitline will be particularly painful. With a recent increase in the federal cigarette tax, the line has seen a four-fold increase in the number of calls from wannabe quitters. The hotline will continue, she said, but her group will not be able to advertise it.

Because of that, "there won't be nearly as many smokers that will find out about it," Sneegas said.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Judy Monroe, who has been a strong supporter of efforts to reduce smoking, hopes recent steps taken by the federal government will blunt the impact of the state spending cuts.

Let's hope she's right.

But why take a chance on losing momentum? With more and more smokers trying to quit because of tax increases, and in the wake of news that youth smoking rates are improving, this would be a perfect time to beef up anti-smoking programs.

Regrettably, Indiana is heading in the opposite direction.

No comments: