Tobacco money up in smoke |

Tobacco money up in smoke

SUMMIT COUNTY – Senate Bill 190, which diverts money intended for tobacco cessation and education to fill the state’s budget shortfall, awaits the governor’s signature after it was approved in the House Friday.

Summit County tobacco cessation experts are disappointed that millions of dollars set aside from the Tobacco Settlement Agreement will go to fill the $850 million hole in this fiscal year’s state budget, saying the juggling of dollars is fiscally irresponsible.

“I’m disappointed they’re using tobacco settlement dollars at all,” said Laurie Blackwell, tobacco prevention coordinator with the Summit Prevention Alliance. “My plea to the Legislature is not to go to this particular fund. It so affects the quality of our programs. Enough is enough.”

In 1995, state Attorney General Gale Norton filed suit against the major tobacco companies to recover Medicaid funds spent to take care of ill and dying smokers. According to the Tobacco Control Partners of Colorado, the state and tobacco companies forged an agreement in 1998 that gives Colorado $2.6 billion over a 25-year period.

The original bill, sponsored by Sens. Dave Owen, Peggy Reeves and Ron Teck and Reps. John Witwer, Tom Plant and Brad Young, reduced the amount of money that funds tobacco prevention and cessation programs by 11.4 percent. It’s a far cry from the governor’s recommendation of 50 percent, but it still represents almost $1.7 million for fiscal year 2002-03, which ends June 30.

SB 190 also diverts $21.7 million from the Tobacco Litigation Cash Fund, funds state officials say will be paid back with the next tobacco settlement payment in April. It also diverts about $6.3 million from the Tobacco Litigation Trust Fund, leaving the fund with a zero balance for the second time in two years.

And an amendment proposed by Rep. Lola Spradley (R-Beulah) and approved Friday in the House will take an additional $2.4 million from the tobacco prevention and $1.3 million from research programs.

“The House is saying it’s OK to balance the state’s budget on the backs of Colorado kids,” said Chris Sherwin, executive director of Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance (CTEPA). “They’re clearly caving in to big business interests and, once again, going after tobacco prevention funds as their quick fix. It’s really shameless.”

Next year’s deficit

It doesn’t end there, either.

“Although we have made it out of this budget fight with minimal impact to the programs this fiscal year, next year’s budget shortfall is projected to be worse than this year’s,” said Chris Quint, manager of advocacy for CTEPA.

Beginning July 1, legislators will address the next fiscal year’s budget deficit, which is anticipated to be $870 million.

“I’m also concerned how it plays into the next legislative session,” Blackwell said. “It just slowly takes away from the work I’m doing. We are so at the mercy of what they decide to do. Tobacco settlement dollars have given enough (to balance the budget); it’s time for someone else to ante up – or for legislators to figure out a different way.”

According to Quint, prior to SB 190’s passage, about 45 percent of the state’s tobacco settlement payments have been used to fill state budget shortfalls. CTEPA members say state legislators should not use funds specifically set aside for tobacco cessation and education to fill the budget deficit.

“This money was intended to be used for health-related programs,” Quint said. “By using it to fill budget shortfalls, the Legislature is going against the intent of the tobacco settlement agreement.”

According to Blackwell, numerous studies show tobacco cessation and education programs work are effective in getting people to quit – or in educating them about the dangers of lighting up in the first place.

It’s too early to tell how well it’s worked in Summit County, as the program has been in place for only six months. But programs in other states have resulted in double-digit percent decreases in the number of smokers.

Blackwell isn’t sure how the cut in the State Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership, which funds her programs, will affect those programs.

This month, she will implement Five-A training, which will teach physicians, dentists and other caregivers to ask their patients if they smoke, advise them to quit, assess their willingness to quit, assist and arrange cessation.

Another program, Take it Outside, will encourage adult smokers to avoid smoking in houses and cars where children and pets are present. It has been postponed until July.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

Intended Use

The legislative intent under Senate Bill 71 in 2000 was to “enact tobacco use prevention, education and cessation programs, related health programs and literacy programs …” (Colorado Revised Statute 24-75-1001 Legislative Declaration)

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