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Senate bill would snuff out Indiana's smoking-cessation agency

January 22, 2010

Legislation pending in the Indiana Senate abolishes the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Agency and moves its function into the Indiana State Department of Health.

State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, is the author of Senate Bill 298, which carries the proposal. Kenley thinks the change could save the state up to $1.1 million annually. But anti-tobacco advocates worry it could seriously diminish Indiana’s efforts to curb Hoosiers’ notorious smoking and chewing-tobacco habits.

“The program we have now has been nationally recognized,” said Tim Filler, chairman of the advocacy group Campaign for a Tobacco-Free Indiana. “If it’s not broken, why do we need to fix it?”

Legislators formed the anti-tobacco agency a decade ago. They designed it to utilize Indiana’s portion of the 1998 national Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry. The $200 billion settlement closed separate lawsuits from 46 states against major tobacco manufacturers over smoking-related health problems.

The anti-tobacco agency has a staff of 14. Its 20-member board consists of physicians, public health administrators, representatives of health advocacy groups such as the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association, the Indiana State Medical Association, and state officials including State Health Commissioner Judith Monroe, Attorney General Greg Zoeller, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and Family and Social Services Administration Secretary Anne Murphy.

Kenley’s bill would eliminate the agency board. Its powers and duties would be transferred to the executive board of the health department.

Agency Executive Director Karla Sneegas was in transit via airplane from a health seminar in North Dakota on Friday morning when IBJ attempted to contact her for comment. An agency spokesman declined to comment for this story, saying it doesn’t offer opinions on pending legislation.

According to its most recent annual report, which covered the fiscal year concluded June 30, 2009, the agency had total receipts of $31.8 million and total disbursements of $20.1 million. But the vast majority of spending underwrote tobacco-cessation programs, such as local educational outreach programs in schools, the WhiteLies advertising campaign and a telephone hotline to assist people who want to quit smoking.

Kenley said his proposal wouldn’t change any of that activity, which the health department would continue. Instead, it aims to shave expenses from the $1.1 million Indiana spends annually on the agency's administrative budget, of which $988,000 goes to salary and fringe benefits for its staff.

The idea to consolidate the agency into the health department originated in the governor’s office, Kenley said, but he added that he was happy to carry the concept in the Statehouse.

“The intent is not to reduce the program at all,” Kenley said. “When you’re in times like we are, the governor and his people are looking for every opportunity to consolidate but not reduce services. They feel like there’s an opportunity to do that.”

But Filler has a host of concerns about the proposal. Even in the best-case scenario, he said, there would be a lull in tobacco-prevention efforts while the health department absorbed the agency.

Filler’s bigger concern is that the only way to achieve cost savings would be to cut some or all of the agency’s 14 employees.

“Tobacco cessation would be somebody’s second job. That has the potential for disaster," Filler said. “We want to encourage policymakers to sustain the structure they have, and increase investments to increase its effort and outreach.”

According to the agency’s annual report, Indiana already spends far less than the $78.8 million the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annually to reduce tobacco use. According to the CDC, larger investments in comprehensive tobacco-control programs yield greater reductions in smoking, especially when they’re sustained over time. The long-term result, the report said, is fewer premature tobacco-related deaths.

The annual report also charts the state’s declining smoking rates. For example, it notes that in 2000, 31.6 percent of high school students smoked. By 2008, that figure had dropped to 18.3 percent. According to Campaign for a Tobacco-Free Indiana, the state’s overall cigarette consumption has fallen too, from 599 million packs in 2004 to 471 million in 2009.

Kenley noted that agency staff work hard, but that it’s difficult to measure whether their efforts are directly responsible for the tobacco-use declines. Filler, on the other hand, sees a direct correlation.

“It would be penny-wise and pound foolish to cut the [agency] staff now doing work in the community,” Filler said. “We get dividends in the future for the work they continue to do.”
 

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