SOUTH BEND — A decision to cut state funding by 38 percent for programs that help people stop smoking and tries to prevent others from starting worries those behind the state's tobacco cessation efforts, who say it will mean more smokers and higher health care costs.
Dr. Stephen Jay, a professor of medicine and public health at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, said health experts around the state couldn't believe the Republican-controlled Legislature reached an agreement Thursday to cut spending from $8 million this year to $5 million for fiscal 2014. The Legislature was poised to vote on the budget Friday.
"We are stunned," Jay said. "Because we have excellent data that it's a smart business decision to fund, actually to expand funding, for tobacco control. For every buck you put in, it's $30 to $60-plus that you save. So when you cut funding, what in effect you are doing is assuring that tobacco-use rates are going to go up, exposure to second-hand smoke is going to go up, cost for health-care is going to go up, business costs are going to go up and the people who suffer are taxpayers," he said. "So in effect, this is a tax increase on the state of Indiana."
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and throughout the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A study recently released by Ball State University, Burden of Adult Smoking in Indiana, found that 25.6 percent of the adult population of Indiana, or about 1.25 million, are smokers, giving the state the nation's seventh-highest percentage of smokers. It also found that and 57.5 percent of smokers in Indiana said in 2010 they tried to quit for at least one day.
The report also found that the health care and other economic costs for smokers in Indiana was $4.7 billion in 2010.
Democratic lawmakers said they couldn't understand the cuts.
"I think it's short-sighted," said Sen. Tim Lanane of Anderson. "It was an uphill battle already."
Rep. Greg Porter, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said he expects to see an increase in the numbers of smokers.
"Community-based programs are the best way to address this," he said.
Lindsay Grace, coordinator of Tobacco Free Indiana, said she couldn't believe a program that helps people end an unhealthy habit was targeted for such a severe cut.
"It's not right. The program is already under-funded at $8 million," she said. "They're cutting it for no good reason."
The CDC found that states will collect $25.7 billion from tobacco taxes and legal settlements, but spend less than 2 percent of the $25.7 billion on tobacco control programs. A report put out in December by the Cancer Society, American Lung Association and other groups ranked Indiana 26th in the nation in spending on programs to help smokers quit and to keep youths from starting, but said the state was spending just 12 percent of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Indiana spend on the effort.
Jay said programs around the state were underfunded at $8 million.
"With a cut from $8 million to $5 million, it's going to effectively kill state-of-the-art anti-tobacco efforts in Indiana," he said. "It's a great tragedy."