COLUMBUS - Staff for Ohio's massive anti-smoking campaign is urging its board not to apply the brakes after lawmakers turned off the funding spigot, even if it means the foundation will put itself out of business in six to seven years.
One board member charges this "suicidal" approach will mean the effort may "go out in a blaze of glory," but will ultimately lose the war and the lives of Ohioans to Big Tobacco.
Today, the 20-member Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation board will hold a retreat at a resort south of Columbus to chart its path in the wake of the General Assembly's decision in June to divert the last promised checks from the tobacco settlement.
In a sometimes defiant report to be presented to the board, Executive Director Mike Renner and other staff members urge the board to forge full-speed ahead in hopes that, before it runs out of cash, it will reach the "tipping point" at which Ohioans no longer consider smoking socially acceptable.
The report suggests the board should not expect a public outcry against lawmakers over program cuts because they have essentially insulated themselves by noting the foundation still has $300 million in the bank.
"The pressure won't revert to the legislature until the $300 million is gone," the report reads. "Until then, Ohioans angered by less tobacco control assistance will be encouraged to point their fingers at the board."
Dr. Robert Crane, foundation board member and president of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Program, issued a counter-report, charging that such "petulant" and "reckless" action could invite the General Assembly to grab the $300 million left in the foundation's endowment. "Nicotine addiction and tobacco use are long-term problems and the tobacco companies are resilient adversaries," he wrote. "There is no short-term fix, certainly no irreversible cultural 'tipping point.' To be effective, programs must continue. This is a marathon, not a sprint."
The state's $51.2 billion, two-year budget that went into effect July 1 grabbed the last $216 million expected from the national settlement with major tobacco companies that was targeted for smoking prevention and treatment programs.
Lawmakers initially stuck to their plan for spending Ohio's share of the settlement, providing $330 million in early years toward what was supposed to become a $1 billion self-sustaining endowment. The foundation has been burning interest earnings and endowment principal to fund a roughly $51 million annual budget that includes the $10 million-a-year "stand" media campaign targeting youth.
More recently, lawmakers have diverted $568 million of settlement dollars to other purposes, including school construction and vehicle tailpipe emissions testing in northeast Ohio.
Assuming a 7 percent annual investment return, Mr. Renner believes the foundation has six to seven years of life left if it maintains its pace.
Dr. Crane assumes a lower return of 4.18 percent, which would put the foundation out of business in 5 1/2 years. He noted the foundation could extend its life by 17 years if it cuts spending in half.
He also wrote that the 70-cent hike in the cigarette tax that lawmakers included in the budget will have an impact on smoking races, especially among youths.
But Mr. Renner said Dr. Crane assumes the foundation will never reach the "tipping point," the point of critical mass where Ohioans no longer find tobacco use socially acceptable and the infrastructure and programs put in place take on a life of their own using other funding sources.
But can the foundation get to that point in six to seven years?
"Isn't that the big question?" he asked. "I'd like a greater cushion. But the more risky approach would be to cut programming to a level that isn't actually moving toward that point, where we're just treading water.
"I don't know how long it will take," he said. "Nobody can tell us that. California is there, and it took 15 years to get there. But California had to invent the programs for themselves because nobody had been there before."
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