Anti-tobacco forces across the country are watching their state funding dissipate like smoke as legislators divert money earmarked to persuade kids not to start smoking or to get cigarette fiends to forsake their habit.
Look no further than Colorado, where legislators, in order to balance the 2009-10 budget, took almost $32 million of anti-tobacco money plus $30 million more generated by repealing the sales-tax exemption on cigarettes.
The news is as welcome as second-hand smoke to anti-tobacco advocates in La Plata County.
"We learned this week that we'll receive $249,000 this year - 3.5 percent less than last year," said Char Day, the southwest regional director of the eight-county Lasso Tobacco Coalition.
"We'll find a way to deal with it, but it's so shortsighted," Day said. "There will be increased health-care costs in so many ways when young people take up smoking and adults don't stay quit."
The coalition covers Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan, Ouray, Dolores, Gunnison and Delta counties.
In La Plata County, the work of anti-tobacco groups reduced the number of adult smokers from 25 percent in 2003 to
17 percent today, Day said. The statistics don't include teens younger than 18, she said. The result of those efforts could be lost, Day said.
Coalition funding comes from revenue generated by Amendment 35, a 2004 state ballot measure that won no-doubt-about-it approval to fund specific health-related projects. Voters supported the amendment because of the designated spending, Day said.
"I'd challenge legislators to find other ways to erase the deficit," she said.
Jenny Pritchard, health education coordinator for Durango School District 9-R, said the high-jacking of tobacco money by legislators will affect the district.
"We will see a diminished amount," Pritchard said Thursday.
Pritchard said 9-R probably will seek an extension of a three-year state grant for anti-tobacco programs when it expires June 30 - but without great enthusiasm. The district has learned that new grants will be for one year and will offer $20,000 to $25,000 - compared with $58,000 in 2006-07, $60,000 the next year and $54,000 this year. Greater competition for less money makes the payoff hardly worth the time and effort required to apply, she said.
"But we are going to apply for grants through the Colorado Department of Education," Pritchard said. "Funding seems to go in cycles, what with the economy and budget crises. We just hope it will come back."