The Legislature is in full swing. Almost. All of these storms have not only changed my exercise routine (I now just shovel for 1-4 hours a day instead of going to the Bath Y) but also the Legislature’s schedule. Public hearings, presentations and work sessions have had to be delayed, rescheduled and rescheduled again. All of these delays caused the Health and Human Services Committee to reach out to me and ask me to do a presentation on the Fund for a Healthy Maine at the last minute. They emailed on Monday afternoon for a presentation on Wednesday morning. I used to be the coalition manager for the Friends of the FHM, so I dusted off my old files and got to work.
Fifteen years ago, Maine was part of a 46-state lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The industry had been caught in a myriad of lies and the states were tired of paying to take care of all the people who got sick and died as a result of their addictive poison. They were accused of using cartoon characters to hook kids and of manipulating the nicotine levels and design of their product to be as addictive as possible. The states were right, so the tobacco industry had to settle.
As the first payments of Maine’s share of the Master Settlement Agreement were set to arrive, the 119th Legislature acknowledged the special purpose of the money and showed tremendous wisdom in creating the Fund for a Healthy Maine, with its eight, necessary and evidence-based categories on which the tobacco dollars would be spent. These categories included: tobacco control and prevention; quality child care; drugs for the elderly, oral health, school-based health, substance abuse, home visiting for new moms and more. What the Legislature established was truly visionary – investing in the prevention of disease and promotion of good health today in order to reduce health costs in the long run. The legislature consulted public health officials, national experts and local communities. They realized that Maine was one of only three states without a county-based public health infrastructure. They very purposefully based the Fund on successful models, such as Maine’s own Franklin County, which had successfully used the community coalition model to decrease cardiovascular disease and the associated costs. In fact, you may have heard recent media reports about this success as it was just documented in the January 13th Journal of the American Medical Association. The 119th Legislature and the King Administration analyzed the holes in Maine’s public health infrastructure as well as the gaps in services for our most vulnerable—children and the elderly—and used this once-in-a-life-time funding to start working to solve the problems.
Now it is up to us, you and me, to make sure this Fund keeps working as intended. The Governor has proposed deep cuts to the prevention programs in the Fund. Ironically, the cuts he proposed are in the very program that seeks to decrease tobacco use!! He cut the tobacco program funding basically in half and eliminates all funding to the Healthy Maine Partnerships for tobacco and obesity work. Now, does that seem fair? Not to me.
As I sat there and presented this information to the Health and Human Services Committee, I noticed a lot of nods. Spending tobacco settlement money to prevent people from smoking just makes sense.Now, I need your help carrying that message to the full legislature. Look for more information in the coming weeks—and as always—email if you have questions. Becky.Smith@Heart.org