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

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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