CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Proposed cuts to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, pending in both state Senate and House budget plans, include the elimination of 100 percent of state funding or $3 million for tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
Among the affected programs are RAZE, the prevention program aimed at young people, and the West Virginia Tobacco Quitline, said to be one of the busiest in the entire United States, and Clean Indoor Air, created to limit exposure to secondhand smoke.
All are within the West Virginia Division of Tobacco Prevention.
In recent years, Juliana Frederick Curry, West Virginia government relations director for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, said those programs have already seen cuts totaling 45 percent.
“This would eliminate every bit of funding we have left for such a critical program, particularly in a state that leads the country for tobacco use,” she told MetroNews.
Her organization is part of a coalition involving the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids calling on Governor Jim Justice, Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04), House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha, 40) and others to, at a minimum, keep current funding levels.
In the letter, state leaders are reminded West Virginia has raised more than $900 million in tobacco revenues during the past five years with just 2.6 percent of that total funneled into tobacco control.
Every year, tobacco use kills 4,300 West Virginians, Frederick Curry said.
“West Virginia should respond to this public health care crisis by increasing its commitment to tobacco prevention and cessation, not reducing (or eliminating) it,” wrote Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
He continued, “A well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation program will pay for itself by reducing tobacco-caused health care costs, particularly among pregnant women who smoke at unacceptably high rates, especially those who are covered by Medicaid.”
The West Virginia Tobacco Quitline, now managed by beBetter Networks, launched in July 2000.
Between October 2015 and September 2016, more than 8,000 residents enrolled for cessation help through the West Virginia Quitline. Of those people, 36 percent kicked the habit, according to Frederick Curry.
“If people are going to quit, we want to provide the necessary resources for them to be able to successfully quit,” she said.
In all, since 2000, upwards of 70,000 West Virginians have enrolled for Quitline services at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Other cessation programs include the Tobacco-Free Pregnancy Initiative, the Save Face Stop Spit Tobacco Program through West Virginia University’s School of Dentistry and associated efforts.
Reducing smoking rates will “provide a return on investment to the state over the long term,” Myers argued.
Budget work continued Tuesday at the State Capitol ahead of the session’s end on Saturday night.