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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 14, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 02
Gay City goes to Olympia to save stop-smoking programs
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Gay City goes to Olympia to save stop-smoking programs

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

On January 26, Gay City Health Project will join a number of other community organizations in Olympia who are trying to save state funding for tobacco cessation programs.

According to Gay City Community Organizer Lark Ballinger, stop-smoking programs will take a devastating hit in the latest round of state budget reductions.

'We're looking at a $3 million cut in total tobacco spending,' Ballinger told SGN. '$2.1 million of that would go to local health departments and community organizations, and the rest - $900,000 - would go for media awareness.'

While reductions were expected because of the state's budget crisis, they are coming much sooner than anticipated, Ballinger said.

'We're seeing budget reductions at the beginning of the year that we weren't expecting till June,' he said.

That means that community stop-smoking programs suddenly find themselves up to six months short of funding.

'Some things will be left,' Ballinger says. 'The quitline will remain in place, but smoking cessation [programs] will be reduced.'

'That's for this biennium, through June 30,' Ballinger adds. 'After June 30, and through 2013 - no word yet.'

The problem, Ballinger says, is that 'the reductions impact groups that have the least resources - the LGBT community, communities of color, poor folks.'

For that reason, Ballinger says, Gay City is working with a number of community organizations from the American Cancer Society to organizations based in communities of color.

'There will be a big Queer contingent from Snohomish to Tacoma,' he adds. 'Gay City, the Rainbow Center in Tacoma, AIDS Housing Tacoma&.'

The objective is to 'educate legislators on the benefits of tobacco cessation programs. A lot of work has been done, but a lot of work still needs to be done,' Ballinger says.

Ballinger is optimistic that some of the funding scheduled to be cut can be restored, but he declined to name any legislators that Gay City expects to be especially helpful.

'Legislators right now are occupied with trying to find money for all the basics. I don't presume to know who's going to be on our side and who's not,' he told SGN.

The implications of reducing the tobacco budget go far beyond the immediate health benefits of quitting smoking, Ballinger says. Ironically, reducing funding for stop-smoking programs may make the state's budget problems even worse.

'It drives up healthcare costs,' Ballinger points out. 'For EIP patients - people who need HIV treatments - the premiums skyrocket if you're still smoking.'

Washington's Early Intervention Program (EIP) covers health services and medications for HIV-positive people who have low to moderate income and who are not already on Medicaid or covered through Veterans Affairs.

It also helps enrollees pay their insurance premiums. Enrollees who have to pay higher premiums because they smoke will not only be impacted themselves, but may cost the state more money in the long run.

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