Money aimed at preventing tobacco use in Ohio will run out in a year unless the state reverses course on planned budget cuts. Gov. John Kasich’s budget has proposed cutting tobacco-use prevention funds to $1 million in fiscal year 2012 and wiping out the fund for the fiscal year after that. But the Ohio Department of Health says it needs $1 million per year just to enforce the state Marlboro smoking ban and $2 million to keep the quit-line program going.
Director Theodore Wymyslo, who was appointed by Kasich in January, testified before a Senate committee this month that the cuts also will affect how the statewide smoking ban is enforced.
“Without funds for this program, we will no longer be able to inspect bars and restaurants to ensure the smoking ban enacted by the voters of Ohio is implemented,” Wymyslo said.
Anti-smoking advocates agree that the cuts are excessive.
“The enforcement dollars are crucial,” said Marianne Farmer, policy director for the East Central Division of the American Cancer Society.
“Even though the majority of businesses in Ohio comply with the law, for the few business that don’t, they will even have less of an incentive if they know there isn’t going to be enforcement.”
The agency held a news conference at the Statehouse today to protest the cuts.
“Tobacco is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in our state,” said Shelly Kiser, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association of Ohio. “We’ve already seen the smoking rate stall after budget cuts this year.”
From 2002 to 2008, the Ohio Tobacco Foundation orchestrated state prevention efforts with a $300 million endowment from a $10.1billion lawsuit settlement with tobacco companies. But in recent years, the settlement money was diverted to fill budget holes.
Wymyslo said that going forward, programs to prevent tobacco use should be funded by the $922 million in tobacco taxes Ohio collects each year. That money currently goes to the state’s general-revenue fund.
Approximately 9,300 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed in Ohio every year, and about 7,400 people die of the disease statewide, according to the American Cancer Society.
Kiser said the smoking ban, which was enacted in May 2007, has likely helped curb cigarette use. She said the proposed cuts could hurt enforcement efforts.
Most enforcement is done by local health departments. But a recent Dayton Daily News analysis found that, although violators face $2.2million in fines, $1.5million has yet to be collected.
Franklin County Health Commissioner Susan Tilgner said the state currently reimburses local health departments $125 per enforcement investigation, up to $5,600 each year. Anything beyond that is paid for with fines.
Since enforcement began, Franklin County has collected nearly $22,000 in fines. An additional $19,000 has not been collected.
Education and cessation programs also could be cut, Farmer said.
“If this budget passes, Ohio will be the only state in the nation that doesn’t have a quit line,” Farmer said.
The quit line arranges nicotine patches and five sessions with a specialist. The program serves 20,000 Ohioans a year and costs $215 per client.
Wymyslo said the program saves employers $2,600 per employee in otherwise lost productivity.
“Clearly, this is an economic benefit to Ohio employers,” he said during his testimony.
The Ohio Department of Health currently receives $1.3 million annually from the national Centers for Disease Control for tobacco-use prevention and is exploring other funding options, said spokeswoman Jen House.