That is over now.
Due to state budget cuts, the Alabama Department of Public Health has rolled back its anti-tobacco program funding for the 2013 fiscal year – during a time when smoking rates around the country are not decreasing.
Lindsey Gillam, director of Family Links, said her organization no longer receives the annual $33,000 the Alabama Department of Public Health provided for its tobacco-use-prevention program.
“It’s been a blow,” Gilliam said. “We’ve had many local schools … they have called to ask us what’s going on and said it was a great program.”
Declining revenue led the Alabama Legislature to make significant cuts in the state’s general fund budget this year. As a result, state funding for the Department of Public Health’s anti-tobacco program was cut to $600,000 for the 2013 fiscal year from $880,000 spent in the 2012 fiscal year. The nearly $3 million in federal funding for the program will remain intact.
“The program was already working at the bare minimum,” said Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer.
Williamson said that due to the cuts, the department has ceased all funding for anti-tobacco programs at local organizations like Family Links. The department will continue funding its main anti-smoking projects, which includes its quit-smoking help line and nicotine-replacement services.
But even before the cuts, Alabama’s anti-tobacco program was significantly underfunded, said Ginny Campbell, government relations director for the American Cancer Society in Montgomery. Campbell said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Alabama spend $56 million per year on tobacco prevention, based on the size of the population, to have a significant impact on tobacco use rates.
“We’re trying to get the Legislature to restore a higher percentage of funding to the Health Department and its tobacco prevention program in the next legislative session,” Campbell said.
The cuts come at a time when smoking rates across the country have not decreased. According to the Centers for Disease Control, smoking prevalence did not change significantly between 2010 and 2011 – staying at 21.6 percent among males and 16.5 percent among females. During the same period, smoking prevalence was higher among adults living below the federal poverty level at 29 percent, compared with those living at or above the poverty level at 17.9 percent.
The CDC estimates that smoking costs the United States $96 billion in direct medical expenses and $97 billion in lost productivity annually.
To have a significant impact on tobacco-use rates, the state needs more than just more anti-tobacco program funding, Williamson said.
“We need a strong state tobacco tax and clean air bill to discourage people from smoking,” Williamson said.
Campbell said her organization agrees with Williamson that the state should take more steps to decrease smoking rates.
“We’re trying to get the Legislature to pass a statewide smoke-free law to prevent smoking in businesses,” Campbell said. “And we’ve been trying to get them to pass a higher smoking tax to discourage kids from smoking and encourage people to stop smoking.”
One anti-tobacco program that is alive and well in Anniston is one for employees at Regional Medical Center. The hospital last year made a big anti-smoking push – turning the campus into a smoke-free zone and offering anti-tobacco education, counseling classes, nicotine patches and gum to employees.
Naomi Wade, family nurse practitioner for the RMC Center for Occupational Health and Wellness, who implements the hospital’s anti-smoking program, said many employees have entered the program since it started.
“Every month we’re seeing about two or three employees,” Wade said.
Wade said the program lasts for several months and is having more success now that it has been available for more than a year.
“It does take a couple of tries for some people to be successful,” Wade said. “More employees have a better understanding of the program now and that it’s important to stick with it.”
Star Staff Writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star