Program in works to reduce smoking
GREENSBORO - A new $5 million anti-smoking program funded with money from the national tobacco settlement will be launched in North Carolina this year, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue said Wednesday.
The proposal, presented to members of the Health and Wellness Trust Commission, would be the first initiative using part of the state's share of the tobacco money that is aimed directly at reducing smoking.
The state's failure to use the tobacco money to reduce smoking led to it being criticized Tuesday in a report by a national anti-smoking group.
But Perdue said the report, issued by the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, was premature. She said the commission overseeing the Health and Wellness Trust fund had intended for months to use some of the money for teen-smoking prevention.
"There's a commitment to do something that works for kids," said Perdue, who hopes to see the program in place by July.
Board members are talking about committing $5 million a year to the program for three years and having the state Department of Health and Human Services run it.
The Health and Wellness Trust Fund is set to receive 25 percent of the state's share of the national settlement with cigarette companies, or $1.15 billion over 25 years. The fund has about $100 million in it now.
The commission's task force on teen-smoking prevention will discuss the project in a few weeks, and the full board will talk about it again in February.
"We do sense some urgency to make some recommendation," said Carole Bruce, task force chairwoman and a Greensboro lawyer.
At $5 million a year, spending on the anti-smoking initiative would fall far short of the $42.6 million the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the state put toward smoking prevention programs.
As directed by Gov. Mike Easley, the trust fund board made a prescription drug program for the elderly its priority. Last month, the group approved a three-year, $105 million drug subsidy program.
A coalition of health groups originally proposed a $25 million, statewide smoking-prevention program for the Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission to consider. The $5 million proposal board members are discussing is a pared version of that plan.
Rather than being spent statewide, the money would fund a multifaceted program in a few places.
The proposal earmarks $1.8 million for school and community programs aimed at promoting school anti-smoking policies and for activities that help youth, pregnant women and others quit smoking.
An additional $1.2 million, down from the $4 million originally recommended, would go to an ad campaign.
The plan also includes money for enforcement of the law prohibiting tobacco sales to minors, grants for African-American, American Indian and Latino groups for culturally specific programs, and evaluations of the program's effectiveness.
The National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids has endorsed the plan, even though it would have preferred more money be put toward a statewide effort.
"Our main message is the states should take the chance to fund a statewide, comprehensive program," said Amy Barkley, the regional advocacy representative for the anti-smoking group.
The trust fund board does not want the settlement money to be a permanent source of cash for any project, but anti-smoking groups hope the board will fund the statewide program after its commitment to the prescription drug plan ends.
"I hope they wouldn't write off using the health trust money for that," Barkley said. "I feel like that was the whole idea. It could be a source of tobacco prevention money for as long as we have settlement dollars."