Free stop-smoking programs in jeopardy
Area residents who want to stop smoking can find more help now than ever, but the future of free and low-cost programs is in jeopardy.
Local tobacco coalition officials fear a two-thirds cut in funding for the next two years will spell the end of anti-tobacco programs they've just launched. Sixteen groups in Wayne County are sharing almost $62,000 in mini-grants to curb tobacco use this year.
The state's $22.8 billion budget uses a chunk of tobacco settlement money to help plug the state's $810 million deficit and to pay for economic development programs, the Indianapolis Star reported this week. Funding for the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Agency was cut from $32.5 million a year to $10.8 million.
"We wrote letters to legislators," said Wilma Dickerson, president of the Wayne County Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Coalition. "It's disappointing because we had just really gotten started. We still want to work on environmental smoke, like smoke-free workplaces, while we still have some money."
Last year, the Wayne County coalition received $75,900 to help tobacco users quit and educate potential future smokers about the dangers. Fayette County received $48,100 and Union County $23,600. The coalitions were awarded the same amounts for 2003, but only half the funds have been received.
"We've been told we should get the other half. The cuts will affect 2004 funding and 2005," said Dave Bowers, grant manager for the Wayne County coalition. "The state agency is still looking at what it can do in the future, so we don't know what we'll get then. We expect to spend all our 2003 funds this year."
The first stop-smoking classes begin next week in Union County. In Fayette County, about 30 adults and eight youth have completed cessation programs funded by the coalition. There may be enough money to fund some programs next year too, depending on demand, said Jessica Isaacs, prevention specialist for the Fayette County Tobacco-Free Coalition.
Fayette County courts have just agreed to assign teens caught using tobacco to a youth cessation program, Isaacs said. A smoking cessation and education program at Visteon is under discussion.
"I don't think (the Legislature) gave us much time to see if this approach works," Isaacs said. "We've only had this (coalition) for 18 months and it takes time to change public policy and perceptions."