LOS ANGELES — The state plans to hack $61 million from anti-smoking efforts and the first parts to go will be regional centers set up to work with cities, schools and other groups — a move advocates say can only hurt the children of California.
Many of the anti-tobacco programs were doomed when California came up $23.6 billion short. Although the Legislature was still wrestling with the budget going into the weekend, workers at many of the 11 regional centers had already moved furniture out of their offices.
The regional centers — the oldest was 14-years-old — employed advisers who helped cities, counties, schools and community groups with questions, campaigns, studies and other anti-tobacco campaigns.
“This will drastically hurt our efforts to continue to reduce smoking,” said Paul Knepprath, vice president of government relations of the American Lung Association of California. “We have low smoking rates for kids, but it doesn’t stop tobacco companies from swooping in and getting youngsters addicted by fancy advertising.”
Ken August, spokesman for the Department of Health Services, said he doesn’t expect the cuts to cause an increase in the number of California smokers.
“I would agree that California success is based on three main parts, one of which is the great work done on the local level,” he said. “Although California is looking at budget belt-tightening, California has gone through fundamental change in smoking.”
After the cuts, California will still be spending more on anti-tobacco efforts than any other state, August said. The state has been a leader when it comes to smoke-free restaurants, stadiums and workplaces, he added.
There was $134.5 million set aside in the 2001-2002 budget for tobacco education and cessation, but only $88.3 million has been tentatively allotted for the coming fiscal year, August said.
That drop is compounded by a decrease in money from 1988’s Proposition 99, which imposed a 25-cent tax on every pack of cigarettes, because fewer cigarettes are being sold.
The state plans to continue programs that target young adults and smoking cessation such as the California Smokers’ Helpline, August said.
Still, advocates fear that the cuts will push anti-tobacco efforts backwards.
“We hope we don’t see an upswing in smoking,” said Patricia Etem, executive director of L.A. Link, one of the 11 regional centers. “Even the department knows that strong coalitions at the local levels are essential. If we weren’t here, there’s no impetus for the city to make sure the laws are enforced.”
One of the most successful programs run through the centers involved students and youth campaigns.