Ohio’s tobacco-prevention funding rank fallsWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | email@example.com
In 2007, Ohio ranked 13th in the nation for tobacco prevention funding. This year, the state landed in 45th place.
The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, in conjunction with the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released its annual report Dec. 9 with grim numbers for anti-tobacco campaigners.
Revealing that most states fall short of the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended $145 million budget for prevention, the study concluded that tobacco sales are high while prevention funding has been cut by more than 15 percent on average.
Between the 1998 Tobacco Settlement and tobacco taxes, Ohio will receive $1.8 billion, but reportedly has a $7.4 million budget for prevention programs, which is about $138 million shy of the CDC’s recommended amount. Two years ago, the state had a $45 million budget, pumping resources into the Tobacco Prevention Foundation, which offered programs and provided grants for regional health departments across the state, said Beverly May
“It’s a perfect storm,” said Beverly May, regional director of advocacy for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
She said Ohio has taken the blow because the tax on non-cigarette tobacco products have not increased, money from the tobacco settlement of 1998 was used for securitization and because Columbus is one of three target cities for most tobacco companies.
And in 2008, the state legislature and Gov. Ted Strickland closed the Tobacco Prevention Foundation and attempted to use the appropriated funds for other purposes — a decision that was ruled unconstitutional by a Franklin County judge and now awaits an appeal within the Franklin County Court of Appeals, May said.
Without a budgetary change, there isn’t room for any improvement, she added.
“It won’t get better and it won’t become stagnant, it will get worse,” May said. “The youth rates will go up and you’ll have more smoking-related diseases and it will cost the state more money in Medicaid.”
More than $4 billion is spent annually on tobacco-related health care costs in Ohio, according to the study.
Lucas County hit
Lucas County took a hard hit when its various tobacco prevention programs lost funding from the state, said Holly Kowalczk, a certified tobacco treatment specialist at St. Luke’s Hospital.
Her program, one of the last ones standing in Lucas County since the foundation dissolved, offers free support services to adults with a nicotine addiction. But the county’s free service runs on St. Luke’s Hospital’s dollar and might not have funding next year, she said.
Free programs for nicotine-addicted individuals once flourished in the county, Kowalczk said. Other hospitals had free services, as did groups such as the Northwest Ohio Strategic Alliance for Tobacco Control.
The alliance once operated on a $750 million annual budget and focused on educating children and teenagers about the tobacco industry’s marketing campaigns said Jan Ruma, vice president of the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio.
The alliance had resistance programs within schools and also trained high school students to teach younger students about tobacco as well, she said.
“Now we basically don’t have a budget,” Ruma said. “It’s pretty much a volunteer effort.”
This spring, the alliance plans to invite school teachers and administrators for informative sessions on tobacco marketing strategies, she said, adding that the alliance is run on the “passion to help” for the time being.
She said the alliance and other Lucas County prevention services are awaiting the money that is tied up in the courtroom, but by the time any decision is made, it could be too late.
“My hope that the funds will be reallocated but I’m afraid that the process will be so long and drawn out that we’ll have to create new programs when we used to have great programs before the foundation was abolished,” Ruma said.
The most recent Lucas County report about children and teenage smokers was released in 2008 by the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board. Results revealed that 20 percent of high school seniors in Lucas County smoke at least every 30 days, while 16 percent of juniors smoke. Those numbers remained unchanged from 2006’s report.
The state also averages about 20 percent of adults who smoke and about 19 percent of high school students who smoke, according to the national report.
Lucas County’s report also showed that 32 percent of those surveyed started smoking between the ages of 13 and 14 — a statistic that Kowalczk said could continue to grow.
“One thing that isn’t captured in the smoking trend is that we’ve seen a huge change from last year to this year in that students aren’t just smoking cigarettes, they’re using dip, cigars, hookah,” she said. “That’s scary to us that there’s a whole lot of underground usage going on here.”
Other products that May cited include “Strips,” which taste like mint and work like Listerine strips on the tongue, but release nicotine into the body. She also said a newer form of tobacco is marketed as “Orbs” which come in Tic-Tac type form and also taste minty.
The recent ban on flavored cigarettes made a dent in the marketing scene, she said, but in the future her campaign will push legislatures to ban other flavored tobacco products such as cigars.
But for Ohio’s remaining prevention programs, even spreading the word about available resources is difficult without the money, she said.
Ohio still has a Quit line that people can call for help, but no advertising can be done because of lack of funds, May said. The Ohio Department of Health also disperses grants to local health departments with the money that is left.
For now, locals in Lucas County are just trying to advocate for saying no and reaching out to schools as much as they can.
“I think it’s just important to be vigilant and make sure we’re doing everything we can,” Ruma said.