Tobacco money pays for smoking cessation
IDAHO FALLS -- Kandi Qualls has seen her tobacco cessation program work, but not on enough people.
The tobacco coordinator for the District 7 Health Department spends her days educating pregnant women and surly teen-agers, old codgers and young professionals, anybody who wants to quit smoking.
Idaho's Millennium Fund pays for the program. Three years ago, 46 states, including Idaho, signed an agreement with the largest tobacco manufacturers.
The companies must pay the states $206 billion over the next 25 years. Idaho's share is $790 million, and so far it has received $52 million.
But it is the way Idaho is using the money that concerns some. The Legislature last year passed a bill placing most of the money in a trust fund. The state uses only the interest on programs like the one Qualls runs.
And that is well below the amount suggested by the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention, which believes Idaho should be spending $11 million a year on tobacco prevention rather than the $1.74 million it spent this year.
Qualls receives about $60,000 a year for her outreach program. She said 45 percent of her clients last year quit outright and another 45 percent reduced the amount they smoke. But just 53 people volunteered for her free program last year, and plenty of smokers remain in Idaho.
"It's really hard to get the word out," she said.
A legislative task force will meet next month to evaluate the Millennium Fund's programs, and to begin to determine which will receive money next year.
California, Michigan and North Dakota do not use any of the settlement money for tobacco cessation. Idaho allocates a higher percentage of its money than do Texas, South Carolina, Connecticut and Kansas.
But Sen. Lin Whitworth, D-Inkom, contends the state is violating the spirit of the settlement. The task force member said the money is supposed to prevent smoking and treat those with smoking-related health problems, not sit in a trust.
It is estimated that by 2025, Idaho could have more than $1 billion in the fund. That money could be used for health advocacy, state building construction and academic scholarships, priorities suggested by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.