Saturday, November 1, 2014

Voter's Guide

Elkhart County, Indiana anti-smoking advocates worry about funding cut

Proposed Indiana state budgets would cut funding for anti-smoking efforts statewide in half.
Posted on April 16, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on April 16, 2013 at 7:45 p.m.

Editor’s note: The story has been edited to clarify the relation between the amount the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that Indiana put toward smoking cessation efforts and the amount Indiana actually provides.

Kicking the nicotine habit is no easy task, and no one knows that better than Mark Potuck, who spearheads anti-smoking efforts here at the Tobacco Control of Elkhart County office.

“It’s just not easy for folks to quit so they need all the help they can get,” he said.

With a proposed cut in state funding earmarked for anti-smoking efforts, though, he and others involved in tobacco cessation programs across Indiana are worried. If the cuts proposed in either of two state budget plans for 2014 and 2015 go forward — from $8 million over the two years to as low as $4.05 million — it could hobble efforts to get people off cigarettes.

“Throughout the last decade or so, they sort of just keep chipping away at the money (meant for anti-smoking efforts) and use it for other state budget needs,” said Lindsay Grace. She’s chairperson of Tobacco Free Indiana, a coalition of non-profit agencies focused on health issues, and manager of advocacy for the American Lung Association of Indiana.

If the funding dip occurs, Grace worries the resulting drop in anti-smoking efforts would result in an uptick in smoking among youth, a 1.2 percent rise, perhaps, according to a Tobacco Free Indiana study. She also says smoking cessation offerings would likely dwindle and that health costs associated with smoking would likely rise, by perhaps $15.5 million per year across Indiana.

“If they cut the budget by 50 percent, it’s going to affect all the programs across the state,” said Potuck. His office, within the Elkhart County Health Department, and around 60 others around the state share the anti-smoking funds earmarked by the state.

Some 25.6 percent of Indiana adults, or 1.25 million people, report being a smoker, according to a recently released Ball State University study. The state has the seventh highest smoking rate among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.


Per the Indiana Senate plan for the coming two-year period, funding for the Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Commission, part of the Indiana Department of Health, would go from $8 million in all to $4.05 million. Per the Indiana House proposal, funding would drop to $5 million.

Potuck’s one-man office is earmarked $205,000 of the $8 million for the current 2012-2013 two-year cycle, down from around $480,000 in the early 2000s. He worries the proposed cuts would result in a further dip of 30 percent to 40 percent, to between $123,000 and $143,500.

Potuck plans to step down as of June 30, and he thinks the focus of the office here will likely change, per state guidelines, away from a focus on helping smokers kick the habit. The funding dip would further exacerbate the shift away from such efforts, he fears.

The Minority Health Coalition of Elkhart County is currently earmarked $88,000 of the $8 million in statewide anti-smoking funds. Tara Morris, the head of the group, also fears a dip.

To combat the proposed cut, Grace, who’s based in Indianapolis, said she and others have been lobbying state lawmakers and getting the word out to media outlets. They’re hoping to maintain the $8 million per biennium funding level.

The funds earmarked for anti-smoking efforts come not from tax revenue, she points out, but from the $120 million per year Indiana gets per the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement between states and tobacco companies.

She further points out that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Indiana spend $78.8 million per year on smoking cessation. The $8 million per biennium – or $4 million per year – that Indiana actually provides is just a fraction of that.

Health matters don’t seem to be a priority for some state lawmakers, she said, accounting for the relatively small funding level for smoking cessation in Indiana. Contributions by tobacco companies to lawmakers also factor, she thinks.

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