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Published: Friday, 12/13/2002

The Editors: Ohio's woes, markets drain tobacco money

Ohio's budget crisis and poor investment earnings could imperil the long-term future of tobacco-use prevention programs that depend on tobacco-settlement money, advocates for such programs said yesterday during a taping of The Editors television program.

“Originally, the tri-agencies - heart, cancer, and lung - were very happy with the money that was set aside in Ohio for tobacco-use prevention and control,” said Michelle Jones of the American Cancer Society's Ohio division.

“Unfortunately, since the original plan, the [Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation] has lost close to $240 million and our concern now is that we're in another budget crisis [and] that we're going to lose additional funding or lose our endowment,” she said.

Ohio should get $5 billion over the next 12 years from the tobacco settlement, and 20 percent of that was allocated to the state Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation. The idea was to create an endowment with investment earnings “that would allow us to adequately keep the program going in Ohio,” said Michael Renner of the foundation.

Then the state borrowed money from the fund to make up for a projected budget deficit. Plus, investment markets “have not been very kind to us,” Mr. Renner said.

“What we really need to do is make an impact, and that's what we're going to do with the money that we have,” Mr. Renner said. “But unless there's additional money coming in, the duration of time that we're going to be able to have an impact on the citizens of this state is going to be limited.”

Jan Ruma of the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio said: “We have had to cut back our plans based on the amount of money that was available to apply for.”

The foundation could have money for another five years' worth of programming, even if the legislature declines to send along further tobacco settlement money, Mr. Renner said.

He, Ms. Ruma, and Ms. Jones were questioned by Marilou Johanek of The Blade editorial board.

The Editors will be broadcast at 9 tonight on WGTE-TV, Channel 30, and at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on WBGU-TV, Channel 27.

Spending money on prevention programs now is a long-term solution to reducing state spending later, the advocates said. Ohio spends $7.5 billion annually on tobacco-caused health problems, and 18,900 deaths annually can be attributed to tobacco use, Ms. Jones said.

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