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Published: Wednesday, 6/25/2008

Judge releases $10 million in disputed Ohio tobacco prevention funds


COLUMBUS - A Franklin County judge yesterday slightly loosened the noose he's tied around Ohio's tobacco prevention funds, allowing $10 million to be siphoned off to continue some smoking cessation programs while a legal fight over the money continues.

The agreement was struck between the Ohio Department of Health and the American Legacy Foundation. The Washington-based foundation has sued the state to claim $190 million that the state's anti-smoking foundation promised it just before Gov. Ted Strickland and lawmakers put it out of business in April.

Common Pleas Court Judge David Fais froze the roughly $270 million that was in the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation's coffers at the time it was dismantled.

The idea was to protect the money from being spent by either the foundation or the state, which is counting on $230 million of it to help pay for a $1.57 billion economic stimulus package.

The money freed for spending yesterday includes $4 million to help the department meet obligations through the end of the fiscal year on June 30 and provides $6 million for anti-tobacco efforts in the next fiscal year, albeit at a greatly reduced rate.

Of the $6 million, roughly $2 million would be spent to extend operation of the Ohio Quits smoking cessation hotline and another $2.1 million would go toward a new tobacco prevention grant program.

Jay Carey, spokesman for the Department of Health, was unable to provide details on the grant program yesterday.

The deal also calls for $820,000 to help the department meet its obligation of enforcing the state's ban on smoking in indoor public places, $420,000 for surveys of the effectiveness of the grant programs, and $500,000 for administrative and payroll expenses, said Ellen Varyas, general counsel for Legacy.

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