Ohio - don't cut spending on anti-tobacco programs it will cost the state much more in the long run ..

September 25, 2009 - Ohio is poised to reduce its spending on anti-tobacco programs from $40 million a year early this decade to nothing by the beginning of the next decade, anti-tobacco activists said yesterday while calling for cigarette taxes to be applied to other tobacco products.

Last year, state leaders dissolved a $264 million fund stocked with money from a multistate settlement with tobacco companies reached a decade earlier. At the same time, Gov. Ted Strickland's administration set aside a fraction of the money -- $6 million this year -- for the Ohio Department of Health to continue running some of the anti-smoking programs the foundation administered. The programs include a toll-free quit line, grants to local groups and an annual survey regarding tobacco use.

Most of the foundation's money was redesignated for social services, although a Franklin County judge last month blocked the diversion. The state is appealing the ruling.

A coalition of anti-smoking activists called Investing in Tobacco-Free Youth held a news conference at the Statehouse yesterday to decry the loss of funding. They said the state should tax chewing tobacco and newer tobacco products such as mints and dissolvable sticks that are loaded with nicotine at the same rate as cigarettes. That would yield about $50 million a year for anti-smoking programs, they said.

"Tobacco is getting easier to buy," said Shelly Kiser of the American Lung Association, a member of the coalition. "(Children) are not getting the information they need to make informed decisions about their health. That's a disaster for Ohio kids."

The Ohio Department of Health has no money set aside in next year's budget for tobacco prevention, spokesman Kristopher Weiss said. But he said the agency does expect to receive a $1.36 million federal grant for some programs and will look elsewhere in its budget for money to enforce the state's smoke-free law, which took effect in 2007.

Strickland opposes raising taxes on tobacco products at this time, spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said. Nor is the governor sympathetic to the call to put more money into anti-tobacco programs. "The governor believes that the best possible use of these limited state resources is to provide health-care options for children and adults and to fund child-welfare services at the county level," Wurst said.

Reference: Ohio State may stub out anti-smoking funds, by James Nash (nash@dispatch.com), THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 9/24/2009.