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Theresa Knox: Keep BreatheND working, as North Dakota voters intended

Debbie Swanson, left, of the Grand Forks Public Health Dept. is the North Dakota Public Health AssociationÕs 2008 Health Professional of the Year award winner and joins Theresa Knox , center, who won the award for 2007, while Carrie Kaltenberg, right, took the honor in 2006.. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS—When one talks about tobacco prevention, as we often do when working in Public Health, one is often met with emotions and misinformation.

Let's set the record straight:

▇ Tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in North Dakota. Since 2008, after Initiated Measure 3 passed and allowed for the creation of the Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy (also known as BreatheND), the state has seen a dramatic decrease in youth tobacco use rates.

These rates were stagnant for years prior to BreatheND's inception.

▇ The funding source for BreatheND is the Strategic Contribution Fund. This fund comes from the lawsuit against the tobacco companies, not from state or local taxes.

These dollars have been coming into the state since 2008 and will stop in April. But BreatheND wisely put its unspent dollars into a trust fund. By doing so, the agency planned ahead to provide for drawing down the funds over the next seven years, thus keeping up the momentum of the tobacco prevention program.

The idea is that, after that time, the next generation of non-tobacco users—who'll have never started to use—would reinforce the social norms, and less funding would be needed to maintain a nearly non-existent use rate.

▇ Having a separate agency with a singular focus is crucial for continued success. BreatheND can take positions and actions that are highly effective and politically challenging. The agency has just one important issue to focus on—preventing tobacco use in North Dakota—and no competing priorities.

As a result, the reduction in smoking rates has been nearly twice as much under BreatheND's comprehensive program than it had been in past years, when it was underfunded.

▇ The Grand Forks Public Health Department gets about 12 percent of its overall budget revenue from BreatheND—and the impact locally will be felt not only in tobacco prevention successes, but across other programs as well.

Because tobacco use is a leading cause of death, tobacco prevention is a public health priority. The Grand Forks Board of Health has a signed resolution of support for a comprehensive tobacco prevention program. That means other programs and activities will have to be left undone.

The funding from the tobacco settlement dollars is in place now and could be for seven more years, unless the Legislature and governor follow through with their plan to zero out the appropriation for this work and decimate the trust fund.

Our state's residents depend on the Legislature to appropriate the tobacco settlement funds to protect their health from the dangers of tobacco. Current legislators should be reminded that the people of North Dakota voted to establish BreatheND and expect its effective work to continue for seven more years.

Knox is nursing and nutrition supervisor for the Grand Forks Public Health Department.