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April 2, 2013

Letter: It’s time for lawmakers to invest in our health

Return on investment is one of the basic principles of business. However, I’m not sure our legislators understand the concept, at least when it comes to investing in our health.  Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in Indiana. In addition to the deaths, the health care burden is an enormous $2.06 billion every year. When we invest money into helping people quit and helping our youth to never start smoking, we save money in the long run.

California was one of the first states to invest heavily in tobacco prevention and cessation programs. A long-term study released recently found that over a 10-year period the state saved $56 dollars for every $1 invested. That’s quite a return on investment.

Despite studies like these, our legislators have proposed a budget that slashes funding for tobacco cessation and prevention by 38 percent, from $8 million to $5 million. Those $3 million “saved” now could cost us as much as $168 million in healthcare costs in the future.      

I encourage our legislators to take a hard look at the numbers. Investing in a healthier Indiana makes sense. Restore the budget to $8 million for tobacco cessation and prevention. One step forward, two steps backward.

That will be the end result for Indiana in economic and health terms if the House’s proposed budget is passed without restoring funding for tobacco prevention and cessation to $8 million.  

Indiana legislators took a small step forward last year by removing smoking from many public workplaces. That coupled with years of work educating people about tobacco and helping people quit has helped reduce the smoking rate significantly. In fact, between 2000 and 2010 there were 219,000 fewer adult smokers in the state.

Prevention programs and cessation programs – like the free Indiana Quit Line – require funding. What may surprise many people is the fact that the state has the money.  Every year, Indiana receives $125 million from the tobacco master settlement agreement. That money was designed to help curb tobacco use, but over the years the legislatures has stripped away more and more of that funding for other purposes.

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