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Leaders should not take funds set for tobacco prevention

During the past week, state leaders passed a bill to take $230 million — the vast majority — from the endowment of the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation, which runs proven, cost-effective programs that have saved lives and taxpayer money.

In Lawrence County OTPF dollars provided 757 youth with LifeSkills Training in 2007. LifeSkills is proven to reduce the risks of alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse in addition to violence.

Family Guidance Center would not be able to provide local districts with this evidence-based program without Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation funds.

State leaders contend that the statewide clean indoor air law combined with higher cigarette taxes has solved Ohio’s tobacco problem. And, while the tobacco tax and clean indoor air law are steps in the right direction, they only increase the number of people who want to quit, but don’t do anything about helping them break their nicotine addiction.

Where will these Ohioans go for help? Unfortunately, if state leaders get their way, OTPF will be out of money in one year, leaving Ohio citizens to fend for themselves to prevent youth and young adults from using tobacco or assisting the nearly 70 percent of Ohio’s (over 1.3 million) tobacco using population who want to quit their addiction.

Wanting to quit leads to self-guided quit attempts which are less than five percent successful. However, using the tools provided by OTPF through the Lawrence County Health Department, Ohioans become up to eight times more likely to succeed.

The Foundation’s programs, including Family Guidance Center’s implementation of LifeSkills Training and Lawrence County Health Department’s Ohio Quits promotion, have reduced Ohio’s tobacco use by more than 40 percent among youth and nearly 15 percent among adults. There are nearly 375,000 fewer adult smokers now than in 2003 - a 17 percent decrease, which is nearly double the national average.

In a time of belt-tightening budgets, Ohio’s leaders should be investing in — not cutting — efforts that are proven to make a difference. The programs administered by OTPF not only have saved Ohio lives, but also save Ohio taxpayers’ money. Smoking costs Ohio more than $4 billion in annual health care costs and another $4 billion annually in smoking-related productivity costs.

Every dollar spent on tobacco prevention and cessation programs saves at least $2 in state-funded health care costs - a 200 percent return on investment.

Ohio’s adult smoking rate is still higher than the national average and the tobacco industry continues to spend $724 million a year to market its deadly products in Ohio. Tobacco’s toll on Ohio will only get worse once funding is cut. Research proves that tobacco usage rates increase once funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programming is cut.

Ohio has one of the foremost tobacco control programs in the nation, which is fortunate for its citizens as there is still a lot of work to be done to eliminate the harm tobacco does to our state daily.

In the future, perhaps OTPF should change the OhioQuits number from 1-800-QUIT-NOW to (614) 466-3555 — the Governor’s direct line. Maybe then, state leaders will understand the tens of thousands of Ohioans whose lives are affected by tobacco use and the devastation inflicted on the state by eliminating effective programs.

Mollie Stevens, OCPS

Family Guidance Center