Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Carroll health officials fight tobacco with diminished funding

The new year is a time when many smokers make a resolution to stop using tobacco and the Carroll County Health Department and other local officials will be there to help residents keep those resolutions the best they can, according to Barbara White, director of the health department's Cigarette Restitution Fund program.

"We offer several types of interventions: A five week class that focuses on behavior change, a [two hour] Jumpstart class that is an overview of the quitting process and a Walk In Clinic where you have a brief intervention with a counselor," White said. "Anyone who participates can receive nicotine replacement products - patches, gum, lozenges."


Those resources and the nicotine replacement products all are paid for with state funding through the Cigarette Restitution Fund, setup in 2001 to hold and distribute state tobacco revenue into programs that would help fight tobacco use. The revenue comes from taxes on tobacco sales and the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998, annual monies tobacco companies are required to pay the states to compensate them for the damages caused by tobacco, according to Bonita Pennino, state government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Inc.

According to a recent joint report by the American Cancer Society and several other tobacco advocacy groups entitled "Broken Promises to Our Children: The 1998 Tobacco Settlement 15 Years Later," Maryland spends only a small fraction of tobacco revenue to fight tobacco use.


In Fiscal Year 2014, Maryland allocated $8.5 million for tobacco use prevention programs


According to the report, this is only 13.5 percent of the $63.3 million recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and a small drop of the $479 million in total tobacco revenue collected by the state for FY14.

Carroll County's share of the $8.5 million is a mere $153,571, according to White, just enough to keep her and one other smoking cessation staff person at the Health Department working part time, just 20 hours per week, to help smokers quit.

White said this funding is up from the $111,966 Carroll County received in FY13, but a far cry from the more than $400,000 the county was receiving prior to FY09.

"Every year they take some," White said. "In 2009 we had a 75 percent reduction in those moneys, and we have been funded at that reduced amount since then, for the most part."

Based on the recent report, if Maryland met the Centers for Disease Control recommendations for tobacco prevention spending, Carroll County could receive more than $1.4 million.

That kind of money could make a real difference in Carroll County, according to Tammy Black, executive director of Access Carroll, which also offers smoking cessation programs for low income residents.


"Given more funding, we would probably have a more aggressive counseling service with supportive resources, including medications, to aid in cessation success," Black said. "The Health Department's support one morning a month is nice and appreciated, but it is also limiting for people who may not be able to come back at that specific time."

According to Pennino, Maryland only puts a fraction of its tobacco revenue into the Cigarette Restitution Fund, which is then divided among cancer screening, Medicaid costs, tobacco prevention programs and other related expenditures, but the bulk of the revenue is spent in the general fund.

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"The money that goes into the general fund, we can't track that," Pennino said. "We don't know where it goes."

According to Nina Smith, press secretary in the Office of Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, tobacco revenue has been used to shore up the state's lean budget.

"Maryland has taken a balanced approach to addressing the $1.7 billion deficit we inherited in 2007, both by making deep cuts in our spending and working to protect our most vulnerable populations," Smith said. "As part of that effort, we invested state resources, including Cigarette Restitution Fund funds, to expand healthcare coverage to 400,000 more Marylanders - many of whom suffered from cancer and other diseases caused by tobacco use."

Maryland Delegate Susan Krebs, R-District 9B, said that the taking of money from tobacco revenue to fund other programs has been going on for years and that she would support efforts to redirect the money to smoking cessation efforts.


"There's many reasons to support more spending, but the biggest reason is that this is what we told the people it was going for," Krebs said. "When you make an agreement with the citizens, you should stick to it."

Pennino said that while legislative support for reallocating tobacco revenue to fighting tobacco use is good, responsibility for any changes ultimately rests in the hands of the governor.

"It's really the governor's budget and the general assembly can only respond to what the governor puts in there," Pennino said. "I'd like to hear from the governor's office, hear them say they will put more money into these programs to keep young people from starting smoking."