Theresa Knox, Grand Forks, column: Myths and facts about repeal of Measure 3
By Theresa Knox GRAND FORKS -- On Jan. 31, I was in Bismarck for the Education Committee Hearing about House Bill 1353. This bill, if passed, will repeal the voters-initiated funding for tobacco prevention and pay for the expansion of UND's medic...
By Theresa Knox
GRAND FORKS -- On Jan. 31, I was in Bismarck for the Education Committee Hearing about House Bill 1353. This bill, if passed, will repeal the voters-initiated funding for tobacco prevention and pay for the expansion of UND's medical school.
There were several myths tossed around the committee hearing that I take exception to.
** Myth: The chair of the committee referred to the Center for Tobacco Prevention and Policy as a "tobacco cessation" program.
Fact: As the agency's name indicates, the program is a comprehensive tobacco prevention program. Cessation is only one arm of the strategic, evidence-based activities to curb the toll of tobacco use in our state.
This is an important difference because the program is based on years of research and successes in other states and must include many more activities than just helping people quit using tobacco.
** Myth: Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, and Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, explained that the money currently impacts only 18 percent of North Dakotans (the adult smoking rate).
Fact: Medicaid pays $47 million in health care cost for tobacco-related diseases. Those are my taxes and all North Dakotans' taxes; all of us pay that price tag.
In addition, 910 lives are lost and $247 million in health care costs are spent each and every year in North Dakota. These numbers affect us all.
** Myth: North Dakota is one of two states that is "excessively funded" for tobacco prevention. The amount of $25 million was thrown around.
Fact: The Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy uses the CDC-recommended level of funding -- $9.3 million per year. Any "excess" funding is being put in a legacy fund to support the tobacco prevention work long after the Strategic Contribution Funds stop coming into the state in 2017.
** Myth: Sen. Judy Lee, West Fargo, mentioned that there already is enough money being used in our state for prevention of risky behaviors.
Fact: House Bill 1353 provides for zero dollars to be spent on tobacco prevention and control in our state. Since tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of death and disease in our state, that hardly seems adequate.
Just so everyone is aware: The North Dakota Medical Association and the North Dakota Hospital Association both came out in support of expanding the medical school but opposed the funding source found in House Bill 1353.
The North Dakota tax on tobacco is 44 cents per pack -- the national average is $1.45 -- and has not been increased since 1993. At the hearing last Monday, Brenda Warren, a volunteer with Tobacco Free North Dakota, suggested an amendment to House Bill 1353 that would increase the tobacco tax and use those funds to expand the medical school.
We know that increasing the tobacco tax will decrease youth initiation, and that the youth tobacco use rate is 22.4 percent -- higher than the adult rate and not decreasing.
This could be a win-win solution. It would be part of a comprehensive tobacco prevention strategy and fund the medical school's expansion.
I believed the legislators in 2008 when they said they just needed to know what North Dakotans wanted. I spent my summer collecting signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
A total of 162,774 North Dakotans used their votes as their voice and supported the funding House Bill 1353 would repeal.
After Monday's hearing, I don't believe all of the North Dakota legislators are listening to the voters. I still believe some are.
There is more work to be done in North Dakota. We know what works to make an impact on the toll tobacco takes on North Dakota, and the resources are available to make this better.
I urge Herald readers to use their voices again. Contact your legislator, contact the House Education Committee. See if they are listening to you.
Knox is tobacco prevention coordinator with the Grand Forks Public Health Department.
Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, testified in support of House Bill 1353 on Monday, Jan. 31, in Bismarck. The senator was misidentified during transcription of the Opinion page column, "Myths, facts about repeal of Measure 3," Page D3, in Sunday's Herald.