State’s top anti-smoking agency could be abolished

A state budget proposal before the Indiana Senate could snuff out the state’s top anti-tobacco agency.

The two-year, $28 billion spending plan that would take effect July 1 calls for the abolishment of the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation agency and places tobacco-cessation efforts under control of the state Department of Health.

The program’s budget also would be slashed from the $9.2 million it received in fiscal 2010 to roughly $5 million.

Created in 2001, ITPC is funded by some of the $4.5 billion Indiana received from the tobacco industry’s 1998 settlement with state attorneys general.

“This was a major settlement that was won years ago and the money was supposed to go to tobacco prevention, and clearly that is not happening,” said Amanda Estridge, Indiana spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society’s Great Lakes Division.

Top Senate Republicans were in caucus Wednesday morning and could not be reached for comment.

Indiana’s tobacco-cessation program won praise early on from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for being among the few state programs that actually spent at least the minimum amount the CDC said was needed to effectively fight tobacco use. That funding reached a high of $32.8 million in 2003.

Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington and a member of the State Budget Committee, told Associated Press that ITPC receives less state money because the millions of dollars of additional funding it formerly received were “low hanging fruit” when budget writers were looking for programs to cut.

“We have a hard time in this state investing money now for its long-term gains,” Welch told AP. “It’s going to save us money in the long run, but we’re not willing to make that investment now.”

State lawmakers have failed to pass a statewide ban on smoking in public places, but more than 30 communities—including Franklin, Plainfield and Zionsville in the Indianapolis area—have passed smoke-free air ordinances.

ITPC says it has helped cut smoking rates of adult Hoosiers from 31.6 percent in 2001 to 23.1 percent in 2009, and from 27.4 percent to 18.3 percent for the state’s youth.

The agency employees 12 people, including Karla Sneegas, who has served as its executive director since its inception. Sneegas was unavailable for comment. 

Estridge said she was worried that several of those working in the program would lose their jobs if the budget proposal passes.

An Indiana Senate committee on Monday approved the spending plan. If the full Senate approves the bill, it will return to the House for consideration. The Legislature is set to convene on April 29.

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