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Indiana closer to eliminating anti-smoking agency

March 9, 2010

New state figures show that Indiana's adult smoking rate has dropped to its lowest level in at least a decade at the same time as legislators are considering a proposal that would eliminate the state's anti-smoking agency.

The plan approved by the Republican-controlled Senate would transfer the duties of the Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation board to the State Department of Health. The legislation was originally authored by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville.

State Budget Director Chris Ruhl has told legislators that abolishing the agency could save between $1.1 million and $1.5 million in overhead and administration. Ruhl said smoking is the only health issue with its own state agency and oversight—and he questioned the board's effectiveness in cutting smoking rates.

"If we are making progress it's very slow, particularly given how much money is being spent," Ruhl said.

The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne reported that Indiana's adult smoking rate for 2009 dropped to 23.1 percent—down from 26.9 percent when the board was created in 2000.

It is preliminary data sent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to states for review, but the rate could end up being the state's final number, said Jennifer Dunlap, spokeswoman for the State Department of Health.

The Senate voted 32-18 last month for a bill that included eliminating the anti-tobacco board. The Democrat-led House hasn't acted on the legislation as the General Assembly faces a Sunday night deadline to adjourn.

Kevin O'Flaherty, Indiana's director of advocacy for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that funding levels dropped when similar stand-alone agencies were eliminated in Ohio and Mississippi.

"It was a power grab and a money grab in those states," he said. "The question is whether Indiana's efforts would suffer over time due to the switch. There are no parameters in the bill. It just abolishes the board and folds the assets and responsibilities in the state department of health."

State Health Commissioner Judy Monroe, who is leaving to take a position with the federal Centers for Disease Control, said the department could run a tobacco prevention program with fewer employees than the separate agency, but she cautioned against an "erosion of funding."

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