Smoking cessation workers laid off
FRANKFORT - The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department will lay off four employees at the end of this month, including a key leader in Kentucky's tobacco control program.
Todd Warnick, who served since 1992 as the tobacco control manager for the state Public Health Department, learned earlier this month that he will be out of job on June 30. The move comes as a result of changes in how the state will run a new, more aggressive anti-smoking and tobacco control campaign.
A health educator, tobacco control specialist and clerk also will lose their jobs or move to other positions, said Dr. John Poundstone, Lexington-Fayette County health commissioner. The employees could apply for the new state positions.
The four employees worked in Frankfort state offices, but were paid by the health department through a grant the state got from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
``I just feel like we've been done pretty dirty,'' said Debbie Cummins, a clerk for the program for more than two years. ``We were under the impression that we would become state employees.''
Warnick did not want to comment on the incident. He said yesterday he is undecided about whether to seek another state job.
In a letter to Poundstone, Dr. Rice Leach, Kentucky's public health commissioner, said the tobacco control programs should be managed by state staff.
``The high visibility, increasing funding ... have changed the setting enough to justify this change,'' Leach said in his letter, dated May 31.
Kentucky's 2000 General Assembly enacted Gov. Paul Patton's plan to spend $5.5 million over two years on a unified statewide anti-smoking campaign.
The legislature also appropriated $5 million to establish a substance-abuse agency within the governor's office, to target tobacco, drug and alcohol use.
The money, from a national tobacco settlement, is needed to help the state reduce its high smokers' population.
Lung cancer kills more Kentuckians than drugs, drunken drivers, traffic accidents, cirrhosis, breast cancer, suicide and homicide combined; 85 percent of lung cancers are caused by cigarettes.
Smoking also contributes to heart disease, the state's biggest killer. Almost one in four Kentucky deaths is attributable to smoking. And almost a third of those deaths are people younger than 65.
Leach said in an interview that he is following state guidelines by opening up the positions and not automatically shifting the four workers into state staff. He also said it is not unusual for the state to contract some positions with health departments.
The tobacco control program is the only department affected by the change, said Leach, but state health administrators are reviewing other contracts with health department employees.
Leach said there are no plans to ``do a wholesale of tossing of people around.''