Latest News, Opinion, WVPA Sharing

Editorial: State cuts to smoking prevention office misguided

From The Herald Dispatch of Huntington:

West Virginia has taken a big step backward in trying to combat one of the state’s leading health risks: smoking tobacco. When you consider the magnitude of the health issues caused by smoking and the number of people in the Mountain State who use tobacco, this development makes little sense.

Perhaps there is a way that can be changed, but it will take some action by state officials to reverse what they have wrought.

Among the casualties of the lean state government budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 was the West Virginia Division of Tobacco Prevention. Its annual state appropriation had been about $3 million, which was among the lowest third of states’ expenditures on tobacco control initiatives last year. But in the new budget, approved by the legislature last month and allowed to become law by Gov. Jim Justice without his signature, the allocation was reduced to zero.

Now, the Division of Tobacco Prevention is running on fumes – not smoke, but on a little bit of money carried over from the previous year and some grants.

The result? Seven jobs in the division will be eliminated, with only one employee remaining – division director Jim Kerrigan. The positions expected to be cut are the Cessation Program manager and coordinator, Clean Indoor Air Program manager and coordinator, Youth Program manager and coordinator, and division secretary, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Kerrigan told the newspaper that he hopes to continue two important programs managed by the office in some form. One is Quitline, a tobacco-cessation hotline partly funded by the state. That program provides nicotine-replacement therapies and other cessation programs. According to the division, Quitline has enrolled more than 70,000 West Virginians for its smoking recession services since it began operating in 20000. The other is RAZE, which is an anti-tobacco education initiative aimed at teenagers.

The legislature’s decision to gut the division flies in the face of the need for its programs. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and compiled at, West Virginia has the highest smoking rates among adults, youth and pregnant woman of all states. More than a quarter of adults and pregnant women in West Virginia use tobacco at least occasionally, while nearly a fifth of teens in the state do.

That prevalence of smoking contributes heavily to other health issues and helps explain why the Mountain State has among the highest incidence of several diseases, including heart disease, cancer, strokes and diabetes. Smoking-caused health costs are estimated to be $1 billion a year in West Virginia, and they are likely to grow if the Division of Tobacco Prevention doesn’t have the resources to help people quit and persuade people to never take up the habit.

This budget decision was a mistake. Lawmakers and the governor should find a way to rectify it.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

And get our latest content in your inbox

Invalid email address