Anti-smoking effort shares tobacco fund
SALT LAKE CITY -- The first thing Cathy Walser thought was, "Oh, no!" the year 2000 Legislature only approved giving smoking prevention programs $4 million.
"It's kind of disconcerting when they have so much money from the tobacco settlement that they would only give us $4 million," said Walser, manager of the Weber-Morgan County Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.
"But, then I thought, "You have to be happy with what we get.' We can do something with $4 million. That's $3 million more than we're spending this year," Walser said Wednesday.
After numerous fits and starts during the session's last five days, on Wednesday the Legislature finally approved spending $4 million from the $29 million tobacco settlement money during fiscal year 2001 on anti-smoking programs.
The lawmakers also will spend $5.5 million from the settlement, replacing a hospital tax that funds the Children's Health Insurance Program, give $4 million to the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Center for cancer research and $2 million to help expand the drug court program. All other money will be put into a permanent trust fund.
There is also another $9 million temporarily held in a court reserve account until a claim by private attorneys who helped the state is resolved. Those attorneys want 25 percent of the state's tobacco settlement money, which theoretically could be near $1 billion over 25 years.
If those claims are resolved and the money released before the end of fiscal year 2001, $2 million of that would go into prevention programs and the rest would go into the trust fund.
"The big problem," said Walser, "is they don't want to spend the kind of money to get the kind of results we've seen in Florida, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts."
Florida, with eight times Utah's population, is spending $200 million in settlement money on smoking prevention and cessation programs and reported this past week a 54 percent reduction in tobacco use among middle school students and a 24 percent drop among high school students.
South Ogden's Curt Zigler said, "They ought to spend all the settlement money on prevention and cessation. That's what it was for and maybe we could get this stopped."
The 50-year-old Zigler, a Hill Air Force Base worker, said he smoked for 30 years and quit recently with the help of a doctor who prescribed the antidepressant Zyban to assist him. And he also enrolled in one of Walser's adult cessation programs.
The original version of the tobacco spending bill by Sen. Steve Poulton, R-Salt Lake, would have given $10 million to prevention programs. But Beverly May of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Utah said, "We were realistic enough to understand that it was going to come in lower."
The bill finally passed the House on Wednesday, 48-23.
John Ouellette of Fruit Heights said he believes the state should first consider running cessation programs for smoking parents "because the parents set the example for their kids. If the parents are not smoking, the kids are not going to smoke."