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Health advocates urge Senate to fully fund prevention programs

[1]With legislators on the fast track [2] to finish-up their work and leave Raleigh, health advocates are appealing to budget-writers to fully fund more than $17 million worth of tobacco prevention programs in recurring funds.

Here’s the request from the North Carolina Alliance for Health [3] to members of the Senate HHS Appropriations Committee:

On behalf of the members and partners of the NC Alliance for Health, we want to share with you the improvements we believe must be made to the House’s version of budget adjustments for 2013 (HB 950) to maintain the state’s very effective and successful tobacco prevention and cessation programs. These programs have resulted in the state’s LOWEST EVER youth tobacco use rates and in more than 62,000 FEWER high school aged smokers in the state (see attached from Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids) since funding for the programs began nearly 10 years ago.

To maintain the state’s tobacco prevention and cessation programs at current levels, we ask that the Senate:

1)      FULLY fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs at the current level of $17.3 million and to make these funds RECURRING. The House budget proposes $5.4 million in dedicated funding to tobacco prevention programs restricted to ages kindergarten through 12th grade. This amounts to an $11.9 million or 68% cut to these programs. A cut of this magnitude will decimate the programs – they will not be what they were, will not cover the number of youth across the state as they did and will certainly lead to an increase in youth smoking rates (see info below). In addition, restricting the use of these funds to kindergarten through 12th grade completely leaves out prevention services for 18 – 24 year olds which have the highest smoking rate in the state.
2)      Make any funds provided to tobacco prevention and cessation programs RECURRING funds. Without recurring dollars, the infrastructure of these programs will crumble and have to be rebuilt each year after experienced employees leave their positions given the uncertainty of the budget process. The exodus has already begun for many of these programs. Given that the state has RECURRING Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) dollars to pay for these programs (which will come to the state as long as the tobacco industry remains in business), there is no excuse for these programs NOT to have RECURRING dollars in the budget. The state received $141 million in MSA dollars in April, 2012 – and we are asking for just $17.3 million of these funds to be used on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

3)      Remove a special provision put in place by the House that explicitly prohibits the expenditure of funds on media and marketing. As currently written, this special provision will result in the END of the nationally recognized TRU media campaign which has been one of the signature successes of the programs. These ads have been noted by youth in numerous surveys as being very effective in keeping youth from starting to smoke, and they have been replicated by the CDC for use in other states.

4)      Finally, the House budget includes no DEDICATED funding for the QuitlineNC. By amendment of the House Appropriations Committee, the QuitlineNC was added to the list of possible expenditures for the $5.4 million dedicated for tobacco prevention. However, this year the state spent $1.9 million to run the Quitline at current call volume levels – and NC saw the HIGHEST CALL VOLUME IN NORTH AMERICA since the beginning of 2012 (see attached chart). We ask that the Senate make the QuitlineNC a dedicated line item of $1.9 million in recurring funds to maintain current service levels which are seeing the highest demand in history.

Over the nearly 10 years these programs have been in place (with the inception of the Health and Wellness Trust Fund), dedicated tobacco prevention and cessation funds have helped 7,000 North Carolinians quit via QuitineNC and have reduced future healthcare costs by $7.2 billion (see attached document).

According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, if tobacco prevention funding is cut to $5.4 million this year (currently at $17.3 million annually), NC will see:

*   An increase in youth smoking rates of 1.9%;
*   10,590 more kids growing up to become addicted adult smokers;
*   3,800 more kids growing up to die prematurely from smoking;
*   Future healthcare expenditures in the state will increase by $185.3 million. State Medicaid healthcare spending ALONE will increase by $19.6 million.

Please consider the effectiveness and value of these programs as you make your budget priorities for 2013. Bottom line – keeping youth from starting to smoke saves the state and save us all health care costs in the long run. Please FULLY fund these programs with RECURRING funds.