Tobacco programs' evaluation funds cut

Firm's effectiveness study was to cost $3.8 million

January 16, 2003|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

In the first sign of likely cuts for Maryland's anti-smoking programs, a Washington research firm that last month won a $3.8 million contract to evaluate the state's efforts to combat tobacco has been told it will not get the money after all.

With a gaping state budget deficit, public health advocates believe the new administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. may redirect the millions of dollars coming to the state from the national settlement of tobacco litigation away from smoking prevention and other health programs.

Ehrlich, who was sworn in yesterday, is seen as less hostile to the tobacco industry than former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, under whom Maryland became one of the first states to file suit against cigarette makers in 1996. Phillip Morris, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes and the biggest U.S. tobacco company, is a $20,000 "Star Spangled Banner" sponsor of the inaugural festivities for Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, according to donation records.

The canceled contract was to pay $950,000 a year for four years to American Institutes for Research, a Washington-based company, to assess the effectiveness of the state's anti-tobacco advertising campaign and cancer programs, said Laura Henderson, a senior vice president of the company. She said the firm was informed last month by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that it had been selected, but that the contract still would have to be approved by the state Board of Public Works.

The company was informed Friday that the contract would not be funded, Henderson said.

Awaiting budget

Carlessia A. Hussein, director of the health department's Cigarette Restitution Fund Program, said some contractors have been warned that their projects are unlikely to be funded, but there will be no certainty until the governor's budget is unveiled tomorrow.

"We know that cuts are coming. We just don't know how much," Hussein said.

Attempts to reach a spokesman for the new administration yesterday were unsuccessful.

The state has been spending about $100 million a year from its $4 billion share of the tobacco settlement to battle smoking and its health effects, including $40 million in cancer research and prevention and $30 million on anti-smoking programs.

Checking effectiveness

The purpose of the American Institutes for Research's contract was to assess which programs are most effective so that future spending could be adjusted accordingly.

About $10 million a year of the anti-smoking money has financed a multimedia campaign with the theme "Smoking Stops Here" to persuade young people not to start smoking and current smokers to quit. Its billboards are visible around the state and television ads have been running for several months.

Michaeline R. Fedder, president of Smoke Free Maryland, a coalition of health groups, said that while evaluations of state programs may seem expendable in a time of tight budgets, such assessments are valuable for making certain money is spent effectively.

Fedder, senior advocacy consultant for the American Heart Association, said the Ehrlich administration should keep in mind that cutting smoking prevention programs now will cost the state in the long run.

"We know that tobacco use results in morbidity and mortality among Marylanders, including those on Medicaid and Medicare, and the state pays for their health costs," she said.

`The little guys'

While the state is spending more than ever on anti-smoking ads, Fedder said, the effort is still dwarfed by the tobacco industry's aggressive marketing.

"We're the little guys with the white hats and not much money," she said.

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