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East Peoria Times-Courier - East Peoria, IL
  • State budget crisis hampers progress in tobacco prevention

  • Deadbeat Illinois: Illinois receives more than $250 million annually from the landmark 1998 settlement with tobacco companies that promised state governments an unending stream of cash and at least $246 billion over the first 25 years. But like most states, Illinois devotes only a sliver of that money — $12.7 million this year — to discourage people from smoking.
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  • Editor's Note: This is the latest installment in the Deadbeat Illinois series, where reporters from GateHouse Illinois newsrooms examine the real-world effects of the state's failure to pay its bills. Each Monday, we'll share the stories of those affected. See more on the Deadbeat Illinois Facebook page.
    SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois receives more than $250 million annually from the landmark 1998 settlement with tobacco companies that promised state governments an unending stream of cash and at least $246 billion over the first 25 years.
    But like most states, Illinois devotes only a sliver of that money — $12.7 million this year — to discourage people from smoking and helping them avoid the nation's No. 1 cause of preventable death.
    Illinois' ongoing budget crisis has made it virtually impossible to argue that policy-makers spend more tobacco-settlement money and other state funds on prevention programs, according to an official from the American Lung Association in Illinois.
    "When you go to the Capitol, you have to keep reality in mind," said Kathy Drea, vice president for advocacy. "Nobody's getting more funding right now."
    A lot of good causes that received money 10 years ago are going wanting, she said.
    And it's hard to convince lawmakers in tight fiscal times to fund tobacco-prevention initiatives targeting youths, even though such programs may reduce human suffering and future costs to the state's Medicaid program, she said.
    "Most people don't want to wait 20 years to see results," Drea said. "They want results now."
    Illinois ranks 33rd
    Illinois spends a total of about $13.7 million a year in state and federal funds on tobacco prevention and control, according to the lung association's State of Tobacco Control 2013 report.
    That level represents 8.7 percent of the $157 million that the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control recommends should be spent in Illinois, earning the state an "F" from the lung association (http://tinyurl.com/b423pug). But Illinois isn't alone. Most states received Fs in the report.
    A December report from the Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids ranked Illinois 33rd among the states in tobacco-prevention spending. Only two states — Alaska and North Dakota — are funding tobacco prevention at CDC-recommended levels. Four states — New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Ohio — have allocated no state funds for tobacco prevention in the current fiscal year, according to the report.
    Illinois was spending more than $40 million annually on tobacco prevention in the early 2000s, when its tobacco-settlement proceeds totaled more than $300 million a year. That was when the Illinois Department of Public Health funded the "I Decide" anti-smoking media campaign in downstate markets.
    I Decide featured award-winning, edgy TV commercials geared toward teens. The TV spots depicted life at "All Smoke High," a fictional school where everybody smoked. The program, which was linked to a decrease in youth smoking in initial surveys, was eliminated after two years, before it could be expanded to the expensive Chicago media market.
    Page 2 of 3 - I Decide is the type of program that could be revived and promoted if more money were available, Drea said.
    'Short-sighted' approach
    Tobacco-settlement money has been used for a variety of things in Illinois. It has helped to pay Medicaid bills and prescription drugs for senior citizens. The funds also have been used for building renovations, parking lots and new water systems at state facilities.
    States have devoted less and less money from the tobacco settlement for tobacco-prevention programs over the years as their budget problems grew, according to Mark Greenwold, senior consultant at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
    These decisions by state legislatures were "short-sighted," he said, adding that funding for prevention programs is "money extremely well-spent."
    The Campaign estimates that in Illinois — where the adult smoking rate is 20.9 percent and the youth smoking rate is 17.5 percent — there are 991,000 children alive who will become smokers and 317,000 children alive who will die from smoking-related ailments unless those smoking rates drop further.
    Youth smoking has declined in recent years, in large part because of increases in tobacco taxes that have a greater impact on young people's decisions to smoke because they typically have less money to spend than adults, Greenwold said.
    In fact, last year's $1 increase in Illinois cigarette tax is projected to discourage 77,600 children from smoking and persuade 59,400 adults to kick the habit, Drea said.
    Illinois' current prevention programs include $6.3 million that goes to county health departments for a variety of programs, according to Tom Schafer, deputy director for the Office of Health Promotion at the state health department.
    Best-kept secret
    The Sangamon County Department of Public Health received about $79,000 from the state this fiscal year for health education on tobacco, including billboards, posters and youth prevention programs, department director Jim Stone said.
    The funding also is used to investigate potential violations of the state's indoor smoking ban and to promote the Illinois Tobacco Quitline, Stone said.
    The Quitline, a toll-free smoking-cessation service operated by the lung association and based in Springfield, will receive $2.5 million this year from tobacco-settlement funds. That's an increase from $2 million in fiscal 2012 and $1 million as recently as fiscal 2010.
    The Quitline operates 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week and takes 83,000 calls a year. It can be reached at 1-866-QUIT-YES or www.quityes.org.
    In addition to free counseling, the Quitline can mail nicotine patches, nicotine lozenges and gum at no charge to people who don't have insurance to cover those costs.
    The state's total spending on tobacco prevention, however, hasn't changed much the past five years, Schafer said.
    Page 3 of 3 - He would like to devote more money to many causes, including tobacco, AIDS and obesity prevention.
    While Drea said the association appreciates the funding, she noted that it's about one-tenth of what the CDC recommends. With more money, the Quitline could do more advertising, she said.
    "In some ways, the Quitline is one of the best-kept secrets in the state," she said. "Without advertising, the Quitline doesn't really exist."
    Dean Olsen can be reached at (217) 788-1543. Follow him at twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.
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