As the hardworking folks at BreatheND prepare to leave their posts at the end of the month, a great deal of gratitude is owed to the people of North Dakota for supporting the fight against tobacco.
We have you to thank for making it a priority for our state over the last eight years. Because of your overwhelming support in 2008, some of the tobacco settlement dollars were put to their intended use- establishing a single-focused agency to prevent and control tobacco use. As a result, North Dakota had the country’s most successful program of its kind.
In the short amount of time BreatheND has been in place, the youth smoking rate is now cut in half, the adult smoking rate is at its lowest point and statewide smoke-free laws are in place to protect North Dakotans from exposure to secondhand smoke.
Thank you to the 92-percent of North Dakotans who are still in favor of seeing the program continue. Legislators’ attacks on BreatheND throughout the 2017 session didn’t fool you. You stood up to end the leading cause of preventable death and disease by writing to your legislators and voicing your support for BreatheND.
Your voice should have mattered. Unfortunately, the legislature didn’t listen to you. For the first and only time in state history, they entirely overturned the people’s vote by shutting down a very successful agency.
North Dakota still pays the price for tobacco, with 1,000 lives lost and $326 million in healthcare costs paid out each year. These are costs our state cannot afford. Big Tobacco wins by successfully killing BreatheND, the single most capable agency fighting it. And, for that, we can thank our legislators.
State Republicans failed public health and they failed you.
I urge you not to listen to their spin. The Republicans want you to think BreatheND’s successful tobacco prevention program has simply been transferred to the Department of Health. Alternative facts, fake news- whatever you want to call it. It’s not the truth.
The legislature stripped away millions of tobacco settlement dollars that were set aside to fund the program and even reduced staff from eight highly-experienced health professionals to just one. How can one person do the job of eight? The Health Department’s program will be a noticeably reduced version.
Research has proven it costs more to treat diseases than to prevent them. So, the legislature has just guaranteed North Dakota higher healthcare costs and more deaths due to tobacco-related illness.
It should be said that the fight against tobacco can, indeed, be won in North Dakota, but only if we implement a comprehensive statewide program using proven, science-based best practices to reduce tobacco use. In doing so, we can cut adult tobacco use and we can keep our kids from ever starting. BreatheND proved this approach worked.
Thank you to the citizens of North Dakota for doing the right thing and supporting a tobacco-free future. I grieve with you when I say, Big Tobacco won this time.
Advisory Committee Chair, North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy