Ohio practically wiped out state funding for tobacco-use prevention and cessation the past few years to plug budget holes. Programs that were proving effective in helping Ohioans kick the tobacco habit or avoid it altogether were reduced to a bare skeleton as a result, with predictable consequences: After years of decline, tobacco use is on the rise again, with teenagers increasingly turning to cigars and other tobacco products and 25.1 percent of adult Ohioans smoking, topping the national average of 19 percent. In 2011, about 18,500 Ohioans died from illnesses related to smoking.
Given the long-term health effects of tobacco use, the debilitating cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and the estimated $9 billion a year in smoking-related costs in the state, the diversion of anti-tobacco funds has proved penny-wise.
Ohio currently relies on $3.3 million in federal funds to cover its anti-smoking efforts, with no state funding. Fortunately, Gov. John Kasich’s proposed budget includes a request for $1.5 million a year in state funds for the Ohio Tobacco Quit Line, which serves Medicaid recipients, pregnant women and uninsured Ohioans. To support the Quit Line, the budget would divert state subsidies that now go to federally qualified health centers.
Ohio spent $6 million on prevention and cessation programs in 2009. Then, 20.1 percent of Ohioans smoked. To be sure, the budget request is a tiny fraction of what is needed in the state to combat successfully the billions of dollars tobacco companies spend pushing their products. Inadequate as it is, it is an acknowledgment: Ohio can and ought to do more.