Iowa budget cuts may impact smokers looking to quit - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa budget cuts may impact smokers looking to quit

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

After weeks of budget battles, many state organizations are now scrambling to figure out how they're going to operate with a lot less money. That includes the Iowa Department of Public Health, which is seeing a drastic cut in funding for smoking prevention and treatment.

In this past year, the state provided $7.8 million for programs like Quitline Iowa and JEL, which offers anti-tobacco education in schools. But now groups will have to operate with just $2.9 million -- a cut of nearly 65 percent.

Advocates say programs like Quitline Iowa, as well as Iowa's Smokefree Air Act, have made great strides in helping smokers quit. The IDPH is vowing to continue funding Quitline. However, the department is asking local organizations to put everything on hold while it figures out how to handle a cut of nearly five million dollars.

Community Prevention Educator Annemarie Goldhorn is one of the people dealing with the effects of the budget cut. She is currently working on several grants to help Eastern Iowans stop smoking. Or, she was working on them...up until Friday.

"Right now we're just kind of at a standstill," she said. "When we got the final numbers this past week, it was a bit of a shocker. You try to be optimistic, but it is hard to be that way right now when you see what the numbers are and what the cut was."

The money is spent on advertising, counseling services, and education for teens and adults. Without it, Goldhorn believes thousands of lives are at risk.

"The ripple effect that this could have is going to be huge. It's definitely going to impact the health of all Iowans," she said.

New packaging requirements, the Smokefree Air Act, and rising taxes are encouraging more smokers to think about quitting. Which is part of why anti-tobacco advocates like Goldhorn say, they need funding now more than ever.

"The successes we've seen, you can see where we would just take a dramatic step back," she explained. "We need to be able to help people that want to stop smoking."

And Goldhorn is refusing to move backward when Iowans have made so many steps forward.

"We are going to keep fighting to educate and help people however we can," she said. When asked if she could do it under the new funding, she answered, "we'll do our best."

According to the IDPH, the tobacco industry spends $174 million on marketing in Iowa alone. Officials say this latest cut is another example of the uphill battle they face against tobacco companies.

To cut costs, the IDPH is looking into ways to use social media to reach out to communities, as well as implement web-based counseling and learning.

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