Leaving the Indy last week, I stumbled on a middle-school-aged kid with his hand buried wrist-deep in an ashtray bin. The kid plucked a few discarded butts from the sludgy mess and placed them in a tin American Spirits box. We made eye contact and he booked it.
As Republicans in the Montana Legislature have proposed a number of controversial budget cuts throughout this year’s session—specifically cuts to funding for tobacco use prevention programs—that kid in the stairwell seemed like a walking parable.
J. Scott Millikan, the president of the Montana Chapter of the American College of Cardiology, sent a letter to media reps statewide just days before pleading for the state legislature to reconsider: “If the legislature continues down this path to cutting the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program, it will not only impact those individuals who are already using tobacco and who want to quit. It will impact every taxpayer in the state. It will also impact our children as well.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, roughly 16 percent of all Montanans smoke. And in 2008, the agency found that same percentage true of students in middle and high school.
The proposed reductions would cut the state’s $10 million annual tobacco use prevention funding by $7.5 million, or three-quarters, says state Chronic Disease Bureau Chief Todd Harwell. The Montana Tobacco Quit Line will disappear. The state will have to halt collaboration with college campuses. Harwell estimates 70 jobs will be lost statewide. “The rates of smoking among adults and youth are either going to stagnate or increase,” Harwell predicts. “The sales of tobacco products will either stagnate or increase. The experience from other states who have had their funding cut, like California and South Carolina, has shown that.”
And the kid fishing for butts?
That $7.5 million reduction would hamper the efforts of the youth-based reACT! Against Corporate Tobacco Program. Harwell says initiatives like it have contributed to a 48 percent drop in smoking among Montana kids since 1998.