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Letter to the editor:State committed to tobacco programs

 
 

BY SEN. JUDY LEE | WEST FARGO

BreatheND has been the source of a great deal of misinformation. A 2008 initiated measure resulted in establishment of BreatheND to utilize the additional money given to states who had participated in the lawsuit against tobacco companies. Those extra funds end in 2017. That does not, however, mean that the programs have been eliminated. North Dakota will continue to receive the main payments from the Master Settlement Agreement because of a tax on cigarette sales.

The North Dakota Department of Health was solely responsible for anti-smoking programs before the creation of BreatheND, and it shared management of programs after the second agency was created. Funds now will be back in one agency, the Department of Health, with programs implemented through local public health units. Both governors recommended this change in their budgets to streamline government and cut costs of administration.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommendations for state funding of tobacco programs, and North Dakota has been the only state that has fully funded all of them for the past several years. However, there are many other public health programs that are also effective, although they are not on the CDC list. The Quit Line has an excellent success rate, and so do visiting nurses who see at-risk mothers and babies, which may involve tobacco use, along with other risky behaviors.

There is currently about $12 million of tobacco money which will be directed to the Department of Health for tobacco programs, and about six full-time equivalent employees will be funded, although the budget is not yet final. The CDC recommendations are being followed, and the tobacco prevention and cessation programs will continue to be evaluated to ensure that they are effective.

A risky behaviors survey is done by the state Legislature every two years and includes data about such issues as alcohol and drugs in addition to tobacco use. It shows that in the 2015-17 biennium, $144.65 million total funds, which include state and federal dollars, were appropriated to the Departments of Health, Corrections and Rehabilitation, Human Services, Transportation and Public Instruction, the judicial branch, University System, Indian Affairs and the Tobacco Control Committee to address prevention and cessation of many risky behaviors. Yes, nearly $145 million! That certainly demonstrates the commitment of the state of North Dakota and the federal government in combating these issues.

The efficiencies created by combining efforts at the Health Department will permit funds to be spent on services, not administrators. That, in my opinion, is a good thing.

Lee, a Republican, represents District 13 in the North Dakota Legislature.