News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Indiana Legislature

April 23, 2011

Anti-tobacco group fights for funds

Senate approves proposal to cut funding, eliminate prevention and cessation agency

INDIANAPOLIS — With just days to go until the end of the legislative session, supporters of an anti-tobacco program are working to restore its funding to the proposed state budget.

The two-year $28 billion budget proposal that cleared the Indiana Senate on Thursday eliminates the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation agency and cuts spending on tobacco-cessation efforts from its current $9.2 million funding to $5 million. 

The Senate budget bill also shifts responsibility for the tobacco-cessation efforts to the state Department of Health in an effort to save an estimated $1 million in administrative costs.

Critics of the move say the proposed $5 million is just a fraction of the money that the state collects to fund anti-smoking efforts.

The source of the funding comes from a $4.5 billion settlement that Indiana received in 1998 after state attorneys general sued the tobacco industry. The Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation agency was created in 2001, using money from the settlement.

Opponents of the cut say the first they heard about it  was when they saw an amended budget bill that was released April 18 after the state budget agency revised its revenue forecast to reflect a $640 million increase in revenues.

“This is a decision that was made behind closed doors,” said Amanda Estridge, Indiana spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society’s Great Lakes Division.

Estridge said the funding cut, combined with  the legislature’s decision to reject a statewide smoking ban bill, would reverse progress the state has made in reducing the number of smokers in Indiana.

In the 10 years since the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation agency was created with the tobacco-settlement funds, the percentage of Hoosiers who smoke have dropped from 28 percent to 23 percent, she said.

“Clearly the program has been successful in cutting the use of tobacco, which is the leading cause of lung cancer,” she said. “This would reverse the progress we’ve made.”

Sen. Luke Kenley, who helped craft the proposed budget and chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee that approved it, said the move to eliminate the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation agency was motivated by a need to cut costs, and not, as critics have charged, punishment for the agency’s advocacy for a failed smoking-ban bill. He said eliminating the agency would save an estimated $1 million, mostly in salaries and benefits paid to the agency’s 12-member staff.

“I hate to burst their bubble, but we didn’t do this because we love smoking and hate people who hate smoking,” Kenley said.

Kenley said shifting the funds to the state health department makes sense because the department already conducts some smoking-cessation programs. “It does away with the duplication of efforts,” Kenley said.

The proposed elimination of the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation agency mirrors a failed effort made in the 2010 legislative session to get rid of the agency as a cost-cutting move.

Funding for the agency dropped from $32 million in 2003 to $10 million in 2004. It’s remained close to that level since. Most of the funds are distributed as grants to local community-based programs that promote efforts to stop or prevent smoking and tobacco use.

Rep. Peggy Welch, a Democrat from Bloomington and a member of the joint House-Senate State Budget Committee, told the Associated Press that the funding has dropped through the years because it was seen as “low hanging fruit” when budget writers were looking for programs to cut.

“We have a hard time in this state investing money now for its long-term gains,” Welch said. “It’s going to save us money in the long run, but we’re not willing to make that investment now.”

If the funding is to be restored, it will have to take place soon since the legislature is set to adjourn April 29. The Senate version of the budget bill returned to the House after it was approved Friday and now goes to a conference committee where differences between the House and Senate version must be worked out before it goes to Gov. Mitch Daniels for his signature.

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