Janesville83.2°

Local drug-free youth coalition funds go up in smoke

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
October 18, 2009
— Much of Rock County Youth2Youth’s funding went up in smoke when Wisconsin’s anti-smoking and smoking cessation programs lost 55 percent of their state funding.

Funds in the 2009-11 budget signed by Gov. Jim Doyle cut total funding for anti-tobacco programs by more than half, from $15.3 million a year to $6.9 million.


Debbie Fischer, director of the countywide coalition, reacted to the cuts with disbelief.


“The statewide smoking free air (bill) passed and there was a large increase for cigarette tax, which means people are going to need help quitting (smoking). It’s almost like they said our work is done. But we’re so far from that,’’ she said.


Earlier this year, the local coalition’s state funds of $115,000 were cut by $11,000. That money—now $104,000—makes up most of the group’s 2009 budget of $146,000.


To complicate financial matters, Fischer remains unsure about state funding for next year.


“We were hoping to get the same amount for 2010, but most likely that will not happen,’’ she said.


Even if the local countywide group receives tobacco control money next year, there will be no prevention money for its programs such as NIKE (Nicotine Is Kids Enemy). That program involves middle school peer educators who share a substance-free lifestyle message with elementary school students, Fischer said.


The coalition’s only other source of prevention funding comes from the Stateline United Way, she said.


Fischer has high hopes Rock County Youth2Youth will be approved as a multi-jurisdictional organization because of its years of experience and knowledge. If the coalition continues to receive state funds, it will have to serve at least three and as many as five counties instead of just one.


“But that’s a big if,’’ she said, because nobody knows at this time and probably won’t until December.


Meanwhile, the coalition is doing everything possible to find program dollars. That includes writing grants and conducting fundraisers and brainstorming sessions.


“We know this program works. So we’re determined to find the money to make it work,’’ Fischer said.


“There needs to be prevention for youth never starting because when other states have tremendous cuts like this, the youth smoking rates have increased significantly,’’ she said.


Fischer also said the cigarette tax increase will raise the number of people needing help to quit smoking.


“But we have to be there to help them,’’ she said.


Fischer also is concerned about the new smoke products the tobacco industry is introducing.


“They’re going to continually make new products to hurt our kids and citizens, and we have to be on top of that,’’ she said.


Yet that depends on what will get filtered out of anti-tobacco program funding.


Without the state dollars, Fischer said the local coalition wouldn’t be able to make it through next year.


“There would be no program,’’ she said, “if there isn’t money.’’



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