State cuts imperil no-smoking efforts

Faced with a 50 percent cut in state funding, Tobacco Free Allegheny plans to dismantle nine of its 12 contracted programs after Wednesday.

“Should the budget materialize with full funding, we can restore the programs, but we’re not overly optimistic that will happen,” Executive Director Cindy Thomas said.

“We’re spending at the rate of a full budget — we thought we were getting just over $2.1 million. If the cut goes through … we’ll only have $1 million for the year.”

Ms. Thomas said deciding which of the 12 smoking cessation and prevention programs to discontinue “was very, very challenging. We did it based on, to a certain extent, the program’s reach.

“We kept one cessation program that has substantial reach into the community and which also does workplace-based cessation because we thought that would afford us the possibility to have as many programs available as possible,” she added.

“On the prevention side, we have a program that has a lot of impact for a small amount of money.” It helps school districts improve their tobacco-free school policies.

The third preserved program was selected, she said, because of the way it works with school districts.

“It’s a sustainable model because they use a train-a-trainer approach,” Ms. Thomas said.

She said that tobacco prevention and cessation programs will also, once again, see a reduction in the share of money they get from the tobacco settlement funds Pennsylvania and 45 other states receive from the Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry.

“Pennsylvania made the choice [in legislation known as Act 77] to use [the funds] for various health-related issues,” Ms. Thomas explained. “We’re almost the smallest portion.”

Areas receiving a higher percentage of the money include insurance for uninsured adults; health-related research; and home and community-based care for seniors.

“Up until now we’ve taken the same hit — they reduce it by 25 percent of what we’re supposed to get according to the act. This year it’s 50 percent in addition to the 25 percent,” she said.

Ms. Thomas and others in her field recently visited the governor’s office and talked with an aide, who she described as “flip.”

“It’s very disconcerting to think there’s this callous attitude that programs aren’t important, but they are,” she said. “They do have an impact: fewer people smoke; fewer kids start to smoke; we see more retailers who don’t sell to minors.

“This is an impact in reducing health care costs, because there are fewer tobacco-related diseases.”

Pohla Smith can be reached at [email protected] or 412-263-1228.
© Copyright: Sep. 28, 2009 Post-gazette

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