Carol Russell, Bismarck, letter: Healthy N.D. needs Measure 3
By Carol Russell BISMARCK -- Some confusion exists about Measure 3 on the part of a few people and more than a few legislators, as well. First, Measure 3 -- the tobacco control ballot initiative -- is about new money. This money, called the Strat...
By Carol Russell
BISMARCK -- Some confusion exists about Measure 3 on the part of a few people and more than a few legislators, as well.
First, Measure 3 -- the tobacco control ballot initiative -- is about new money. This money, called the Strategic Contribution Fund, is a bonus fund designated for tobacco control education programs in North Dakota.
The fund was awarded to North Dakota as a special bonus because of the work by our former attorney general, Heidi Hietkamp, who was a key negotiator with tobacco companies on behalf of North Dakota. This special fund comes to North Dakota over a 10-year period from 2008 to 2017 and allows for adequate funding of the state's tobacco control program.
This bonus fund is sometimes confused with the millions of dollars (more than $235 million to date) given to North Dakota through a Master Settlement Account, the result of negotiations by states' attorneys general with tobacco companies. These dollars that came to North Dakota in 1999 and continue until 2025 were diverted by the Legislature into water projects and education. Only 10 percent went to public health.
So, why is the ballot initiative necessary? When North Dakota got its first bonus SCF payment of new money in 2008, the Legislature did the same thing -- that is, it diverted the money into water and education with only 10 percent to public health for tobacco control programs.
This was not the intent of the bonus fund. So, now, the people must speak to the Legislature directly about what they want, hence the initiative.
But I want to warn you. There is no legislator, city or county council member, organization, community group, ballot initiative, or legislation that big tobacco will not try to influence. They will do almost anything to prevent money going into tobacco control programs. They will get behind any number of worthy causes, whatever it takes, to starve tobacco control. I know what I'm talking about.
I was with California's historic tobacco control program since its inception and headed its program and evaluation component until I retired and moved back to my home state of North Dakota in 2006. Big tobacco did everything possible to sabotage our program. There were no towns or organizations too small for them to try to influence. Their attempts to divert money from tobacco control never stopped. But program success and public opinion prevailed. The state now has an adult prevalence rate of 10 percent in its sights.
One misconception about the SCF bonus comes from North Dakota's House majority speaker, Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo, who said he didn't think it's constitutional to allow some agency outside of our state to set the level of state spending. Huh? He's talking about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention best practices document for comprehensive tobacco control programs. This document is not pie-on-the-sky but consists of hard-won evidence-based results by my staff and that of thousands of local programs across the state over almost a decade. The work of Massachusetts, Florida, and other states is also included.
CDC is citing only what we found to work and how much that cost. To slam that document is to slam the work of countless local people around the country who made a difference in saving lives and billions of dollars in personal health expenditures. Tobacco use is, after all, the No. 1 preventable cause of death.
Now, it's time for North Dakota to pass Measure 3 and join the vanguard of states and countries working for the health of their people. We deserve nothing less.
Russell is former chief of program services for the Tobacco Control Program of the California Department of Public Health.