Smoking foes not showing united front
FRANKFORT - Kentucky's anti-smoking crusaders, who had become accustomed to getting little help from the burley state's General Assembly, are finally poised to see their cause get some serious money.
So they're lining up in lockstep, hoping to get every penny they can for their cause, right?
Groups like Kentucky ACTION favor a bill that would provide $40 million over two years, but would limit it to anti-smoking programs for young people and pregnant women.
But others, such as Ellen Hahn, a longtime smoking foe and an associate professor of nursing at the University of Kentucky, prefer Gov. Paul Patton's proposal to spend just $5.5 million over the same two-year period but to cover all smokers.
``I would rather have a comprehensive, evidence-based tobacco program led by people who know what they're doing, versus a lot of money that might have strings attached to it,'' Hahn said.
Lawmakers have until the end of this month to craft their plan. There may be much debate about money and strings between now and then. In the meantime, here's a look at the proposals:
House Bill 617
This measure, sponsored by House Majority Leader Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, represents Patton's plan. It would devote $2.5 million to anti-smoking efforts in the fiscal year 2001, and $3 million in 2002.
Federal experts have said Kentucky should spend far more on smoking cessation to have an effective program.
And while some local advocates, such as Hahn, have expressed support for it, others say Patton's proposal simply would not buy enough.
Lynn Carol Birgmann, executive director of Kentucky ACTION, said her group ``applauds the governor for at least putting tobacco control on his radar screen.''
Nonetheless, ``Our position is that $5.5 million over two years will not get the job done,'' she said.
Her group prefers ...
Senate Bill 274
This bill, sponsored by state Sen. Joey Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, would dedicate $20 million in both 2001 and 2002, for a total of $40 million.
And it would focus its efforts on stopping smoking among young people and pregnant women.
That tight focus, which some oppose, is one of the reasons Kentucky ACTION supports Pendleton's bill, Birgmann said. Why? Politics.
The group reasons that Kentucky's tobacco interests are less likely to oppose smoking programs aimed at such groups, she said.
``We've focused mainly on youth and pregnant women because we felt it would be more palatable with the General Assembly,'' Birgmann said. ``But that certainly doesn't mean that we don't care about adults.''
Even so, some fear that Pendleton's bill includes built-in protection for tobacco interests.
First, it holds that any anti-smoking efforts be ``culturally sensitive'' to Kentucky, whose rural culture is steeped in the traditions of tobacco farming.
Second, it would create an oversight committee that would examine all attempts to spend more than $5,000 on a particular program. The committee could advise against paying for programs it found objectionable.
Hahn, the nursing professor, fears that the tobacco industry could use its influence to cajole the committee into blocking programs it didn't like.
But Birgmann insisted that actions by the proposed oversight committee actually would not be binding.
The debate may be meaningless. Pendleton, the bill's sponsor, has begun to question the support for his bill and said he supports ...
Senate Bill 293
This measure, sponsored by Senate President David Williams, has already been approved by the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee.
But it's also the bill that has the most questions attached to it.
Williams, a Burkesville Republican, had originally called for spending $20 million in each of the next two fiscal years on anti-smoking efforts. But last week, he took the $40 million out of the bill and said he would find money apparently less money for its programs when the Senate reviews the state budget.
``We will try to at least double the amount of money that the governor advised to be spent for smoking cessation,'' he said. (That would be $11 million, as opposed to the original $40 million.)
Williams' bill would set up the Kentucky Substance Abuse Policy Board to coordinate smoking cessation and substance-abuse prevention and education programs.
Unlike the other bills, it also includes drug and alcohol abuse programs for youths and adults, especially pregnant women. State universities would be able to apply for research grants through the program.
And it would create local advisory boards to implement those programs a provision that Hahn fears could also lead to muzzling programs that tobacco interests find objectionable.
Details still to come
All of the money whatever the amount turns out to be will come from the national tobacco settlement, which calls for $206 billion to be paid to states over 25 years.
Kentucky's share is $3.45 billion.
Tobacco-use prevention, smoking cessation and community-based and school-based education lead the list of how states are spending their portions of the settlement, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Existing and proposed state plans vary from a $6 million tobacco-prevention plan in New Mexico to a $60 million plan in Illinois.
And while some have been fleshed out with details, Kentucky's has not. But state officials say they're ready to implement a program with whatever the General Assembly decides to spend.
Mike Townsend, director of the state's substance abuse division, told the Senate Health and Welfare Committee last week that he likes that SB 293, the Williams bill, focuses on coordinating state services.
Dr. Rice Leach, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said any statewide plan should ``keep kids from smoking, reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, help people to quit and close the gap between populations where there are higher chances of disease from tobacco use.''
The plan will be comprehensive and based on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines, he said. Leach said any money provided by the legislature would be used to ``leverage'' more money from other sources.
``If we start out with $2.5 million, we'll have a template to work from. If in the course of negotiations it gets bigger, we'll go from there,'' Leach said.
``I think the main thing is that a lot of legislators are saying it's time. And it is time.
``Either way it goes, for me it means there's a green light to at least get something started.''