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Legislature shouldn’t cut smoking cessation programs

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JANUARY 26, 2011 7:10 AM

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“Snatching disaster from the jaws of success.” That’s how the director of the global health studies at the University of Iowa, Christopher Squier, describes Republican lawmakers’ proposal to cut funding for smoking-cessation programs in Iowa.

Squier contends that smoking is the most preventable cause of death and disease in Iowa. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, roughly 4,400 Iowans will die from tobacco-related causes this year; this surpasses the number of road accidents, drunk-driving deaths, other alcohol-related deaths, and deaths from AIDS combined. While smoking is a personal choice, it is also a public-health issue, and those who desire to quit deserve access to tested cessation programs. Lawmakers should consider quitting resources an investment and find ways of cutting the state budget that do not damage the health of our state.

Antismoking campaigns, such as Quitline Iowa, an over-the-phone counseling service, and Just Eliminate Lies, which educates youth on the dangers of tobacco use, are two smoking programs with jeopardized funds. While one would typically assume such cuts must be necessary because they are not effective, the opposite is actually true.

An Iowa Department of Public Health study found that smokers who use Quitline Iowa have a 30 percent chance of being smoke-free a year later; of those who quit cold turkey, only a meager 7 percent stay smoke-free a year out.

Trisha Schiltz, a health educator at Health Iowa, verified that free student cessation programs have successfully aided the decline in smoking rates at the UI. The university also offers discount nicotine-replacement therapy, which includes items such as the gum, patch, and lozenge, at any tobacco-cessation appointment — all of which are at greatly reduced prices for students.

“I just think if students want to quit, it would be good to seek out resources,” Schiltz said.

These efforts appear to be working. In 2006, the smoking rate was around 30 percent among students at Iowa; by 2009, it dropped to 23 percent.

While Health Iowa is not a recipient of the state funding, slashing such programs would largely diminish the progress public health has made statewide.

“I think smoking rates won’t be able to maintain that key production that we have had in the past years,” Schiltz said.

So if cessation measures were working, why would Iowa lawmakers want to defund them?
Schiltz and Squier believe senators have one obsession — cutting government and cutting short-term costs. The current political zeitgeist of reduced spending and austerity has come to Des Moines, and with it comes an attempt to rid government expenditures of weight perceived as unnecessary.

However, such budget-minimizing measures ignore possible long-term consequences. A report from 1993 found that Medicare spends more than $300 million on smoking-related health-care measures; while more up-to-date information is not immediately available, such drastic numbers demand an investigation. The returns on smoking cessation may outweigh the immediate expenditures.

It’s understandable that Iowa needs to makes cuts, but it must slash bloated budgets, not programs that have been proven successful at curbing one of the leading causes of death.

It may be tempting now, but to avoid disaster, Iowa lawmakers must carefully consider cutting the budget of public-health measures.


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