Board wants increased funding for smoking cessation programs

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(Host) The Vermont Tobacco Review Board wants lawmakers to beef up funding for smoking cessation programs using the second phase of the national tobacco settlement fund.

The head of the Senate Appropriations committee says she supports most of the Board’s recommendations but she disagrees with one key component of the plan.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The state of Vermont currently receives roughly $22 million a year from the first phase of the national tobacco settlement agreement. These annual payments are scheduled to continue in perpetuity.

Last year, the Legislature used just over $5 million from the settlement funds for a variety of smoking cessation programs and it allocated 17 million dollars to support various state health care programs.

Now the second phase of the national settlement is set to go into place. Vermont officials are expecting an additional 10 to $14 million a year but these payments will be made only for a ten year period.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell wants the Legislature to put a third of this new money into cessation programs, a third into other state health care programs and a third into a special trust fund.

(Sorrell) “The message today is what are we going to do with the money? It’s going to go away after ten years. And shouldn’t we use it for the purpose that got us the money in the first place, and to treat what remains the greatest preventable health problems that we face in this state?”

(Kinzel) Board officials say additional money is needed for aggressive cessation programs because Vermont’s adult smoking rate has remained constant for several years. It’s estimated that one of every five adults in the state is a smoker.

Deborah Hunton of Huntington says these programs are critical. After smoking for 30 years, it took her 14 attempts to successfully quit:

(Hunton) “So with the help of nicotine replacement therapy and Vermont Quitline I was able to quit and have not smoked since. And it’s just really important that money goes to nicotine replacement therapy and help for the people who really want to quit and can’t.”

(Kinzel) Senate Appropriations chairwoman Susan Bartlett says she supports the goals of the Tobacco Board but she says it’s likely that the money targeted for the trust fund will be needed for ongoing health care programs:

(Bartlett) “Lots of states took their money. They could have spent it on roads. They spent it on things that weren’t at all related to it. So the good thing that Vermont has always done is take all of the money that we get in this from the original intent of the lawsuit and use it for the intent that the lawsuit was about.”

(Kinzel) Bartlett says a final decision about the use of these funds will be made when her committee takes up the state budget for next year.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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