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June 30, 2010 06:15 PM

Cuts Made To SD QuitLine

Sioux Falls, SD


When you buy a pack of cigarettes in South Dakota, the taxes paid help smokers kick the habit while preventing others from starting up.  But that's changing.  State budget cuts are affecting tobacco prevention programs in schools and those cuts are also affecting a tool that helps smokers quit.

The adult smoking rate in South Dakota dropped to 17.5 percent in 2008, down from a nearly 20 percent drop the year before.  A lot of that success is thanks to South Dakota's QuitlLine.  But the Department of Health hopes cuts to that program won't lead people to light up again.

A call to the QuitLine means you'll get counseling over the phone by a trained professional. You'll also have access to free nicotine withdrawal medication. 

"They're very important especially combined with the counseling and we don't provide the free meds to anybody if they don't participate in the counseling," South Dakota Secretary of Health Doneen Hollingsworth said.

Those 12 weeks of free drugs have been shortened to eight weeks. That's because of a $400,000 cut to the QuitLine program.

It's a cut, the state's Secretary of Health says, lawmakers let them make.

"At least we had the opportunity to make the cuts in a manner that we thought was most appropriate that authority to do it that way," Hollingsworth said.

The drop in smokers in the state two years ago is expected to save $65 million in health care costs through 2011.
Hollingsworth hopes the program's budget cut won't turn that around.  She stresses that the QuitLine is still a very good program.

"I honestly am not aware of a QuitLine, of a state program that goes as far as we do now - the provided, the free meds and the free counseling for the length of time that we did," Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth says the cuts they made were fair, and while there's less money available for tobacco prevention in schools, it isn't going away completely.

"It's going to be much more of a competitive process for grants. But we're still funding curriculum and providing technical assistance to schools," Hollingsworth said.

But there's good news.  Those who are already part of the program will still receive 12 weeks of the free medication.
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