The American Cancer Society is pressing state lawmakers to include more funding for smoking cessation programs in the 2020-22 state budget.

Wednesday was Take Down Tobacco National Day of Action, but anything planned at the Capitol in Frankfort was curtailed by the restrictions on public access due to the coronavirus.

Kristy Young, government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said Gov. Andy Beshear recommended about $2.9 million for smoking cessation programs in his budget, while the House budget bill included $2 million.

That’s a decrease. Smoking cessation programs are currently funded at $3.3 million.

Young said American Cancer Society officials would like to see $10 million allocated to programs that curb youth smoking.

“We have not addressed the tobacco epidemic the way we should,” Young said.

According to the ACS, Kentucky has the highest number of smoking-related deaths in the nation. Young said Kentucky’s smoking rate is second only to West Virginia’s.

Rates of youth smoking have increased since 2018, which the ACS attributes to the use of e-cigarettes. The organization also advocates for the passage of smoke-free laws and an increase in the state’s tobacco tax.

Young said providing $10 million funding tobacco cessation programs in Kentucky would have an impact on preventing teens from becoming adult smokers.

“We know as a result, 2,600 fewer kids would become adult smokers if we increased (funding) to $10 million,” she said.

Once the Senate approves its budget, House and Senate members will meet in committee to craft a final budget. Young said the visitor restrictions at the Capitol make it difficult to advocate in person for more funding.

“We would really just appreciate an increase,” she said. “I know a lot of lawmakers care about the e-cigarette epidemic.

“We can’t afford to go backward,” Young said.

Smoking-related illnesses and deaths cost the state much more than $10 million, Young said.

“Smoking-related costs are around $1.92 billion a year … when you’re talking in terms of annual healthcare expenditures,” Young said. Kentucky spends $589.8 million in Medicaid funds annually on illnesses related to smoking, she said.

“We want to reduce usage, and we can’t really go to the Capitol right now,” Young said. “We will keep trying to get our message out and say, ‘let’s not forget about tobacco.’

“We want to work with lawmakers ... and make sure they are educated on what’s going on,” Young said, adding that the ACS’s goal is to make sure lawmakers have “enough education to make decisions.”

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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