Hoosiers who oppose smoking have made several strides such as the cigarette tax hike in 2009 and the public smoking ban in various counties. But there are some of Indiana’s state Senate Republicans who support measures that would cut funding to tobacco cessation and other public health programs some say are critical to Indiana residents’ health.
“They’re abolishing the infrastructure in place and on top of that they’ve killed the (statewide) smoke free bill,” said Tim Filler, chairman of the advocacy group Campaign for a Tobacco-Free Indiana. “This is only going to cause more people to get sick and die from second hand smoke and primary smoke.”
“It’s not done yet. We’re still working on this,” said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesvile.
Proponents of anti smoking measures are disappointed this bill is even on the table, but moreover, it came into the forefront mere days before the end of the Legislature’s session. There has been no public committee hearing on this aspect of House Bill 1001.
“The Senate Finance Committee should sit down and see if this bill is cost effective,” said Dr. Stephen Jay, Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation (ITPC) board member. “How could you make a sweeping change without public input or analysis?”
The proposal is to cut IPTC funds to $5 million and shift anti-smoking responsibility to the Indiana State Department of Health. Many feel the health department is a secure office, however, it lacks the solid infrastructure it takes to combat powerful tobacco companies and their lobbyists.
This measure would also completely dismantle the ITPC. During last year’s legislative session, Kenley proposed similar measures.
ITPC is a quasi-independent state agency with a board consisting of appointments by the governor with recommendations by key organizations that have expertise in public health. Their initial budget, which was provided by the tobacco industry and Indiana lawmakers called the Master Settlement Agreement, was $35 million – today ITPC’s budget is less than $10 million.
Seventy-five percent of their funding is required to go out in grants to community partners. This money also serves programs in 65 counties.
Other dollars go towards efforts such as the cessation quit line, research and evaluation, mass media campaigns and administration training.
“Sixty thousand Hoosiers have used our 1-800-quit-now line. The only thing that limits that is the money to market the program,” said Dr. Jay.
“People want to quit,” added Filler. “The more we can market that and other programs, the more people quit.”
In addition to dissolving ITPC and damaging other programs parallel to their mission, Tanya Bell, president and CEO of Indiana Black Expo, and a staunch supporter of ITPC, believes that if the bill passes, the consequences would be detrimental for the Black community.
“We all know the health disparities that exist in the African-American community. This would be a huge hit for African-Americans. We’re very concerned,” said Bell. “The ITPC was also designed to combat the tobacco companies from a promotional stand point. We’re talking about promoting to poor minorities.”
According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, African-Americans suffer the greatest burden of tobacco-related mortality of any ethnic or racial group in the U.S. Bell added that Indiana is also a test market for campaigns geared towards youths.
Across the board, smoking rates and the intensity of smoking are shrinking, however, advocates of ITPC and other anti-smoking entities such as the American Cancer Society believe more education is needed to reduce rates considerably.
If the ITPC is able to hold on to their ever-shrinking funding, they plan to focus outreach on priority populations, engage in health care provider education and implement strong local tobacco control policies.
“In what has become an unfortunate trend, the Indiana General Assembly is waging a full-on assault on public health in Indiana,” said Amanda Estridge, manager of Indiana state government relations for the American Cancer Society in a press release. “Lawmakers have offered a knee-jerk solution to what we realize are challenging budget issues, but this shortsighted attempt to cut spending in the short term will only cost taxpayers and the public more in the long run.”
Ohio, Illinois and Michigan have all passed smoking bans.