It’s been nearly 50 years since the first warning label appear on a pack of cigarettes, telling customers that “smoking may be hazardous to your health.” Today, there is little doubt about the dangers cigarettes pose to both smokers and innocent bystanders. Yet, Indiana continues to rank among the worst five states in the nation for adult smoking.

But there could be a new dawn rising in the Hoosier state, one not shrouded by layers of smoke, thanks to a merger of the Indiana Tobacco Prevention Cessation agency (ITPC) into the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH).

This legislative effort, done during the 2011 Indiana General Assembly, could go a long way toward clearing the air for all Hoosiers by reducing administrative costs and sending valuable tax dollars directly to state and local smoking cessation programs. Such a move builds upon a year when tobacco sales to minors fell to an all-time low in 2010, according to a recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It also refutes claims by some that Indiana lawmakers sided with tobacco companies this session over kids – claims that are nothing more than a smokescreen and only deter from the job at hand of reducing smoking rates and tobacco-related illnesses in our state.

Approving a merger of the ITPC into the ISDH allows our state to save approximately $900,000 in administrative costs by eliminating redundancies and removing layers of bureaucracy. Including a well-versed and better-staffed ISDH may ultimately help Indiana more effectively leverage anti-tobacco funds and perhaps offers officials an opportunity to distribute around $10 million currently sitting in the ITPC trust fund to finance various anti-smoking programs. These efforts have allowed the ISDH to increase total grant awards to local and community programs focused on tobacco prevention and cessation.

Additionally, the ISDH recently announced that it plans to continue reinvesting savings realized by this transfer back into current smoking cessation programming and will also seek other grant funding for innovative anti-smoking initiatives. ISDH officials have also committed to continuing community and minority-based programs, the Indiana Tobacco Quitline, Quit Now Indiana and the VOICE youth program. Tobacco reduction and protection from secondhand smoke exposure will be further integrated into existing state health promotion efforts, such as cancer prevention, oral health, asthma care and prenatal health.

Clearly, it’s vital for Hoosiers to realize the adverse health effects of tobacco. I believe placing this responsibility with the state’s largest public health advocate is the best way to cut overhead, increase local grants for anti-smoking programs and gain valuable expertise from the ISDH executive board. Made up of highly qualified health professionals, these board members are committed to improving the health of Hoosiers and willing to assist in the fight for a smoke-free Indiana.

I am excited about the new approach to curb smoking in our state and pledge to monitor the progress of these important partnerships and streamlined programs. I look forward to the day when Indiana is no longer mentioned among the states with the highest percentage of smokers. This merger could be just what the doctor ordered to continue the fight against smoking in a prudent, efficient and effective way.

Indiana State Senator
Luke Kenley