The “Tobacco Taliban” is what state lawmakers, in private moments, call the bureaucratic zealots at the Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control, a state agency created by an initiated measure in 2008 which you know better as BreatheND.
The Legislature has disdained this state agency for years now. Back during the 2013 session the House of Representatives voted to kill the budget for the agency three times before finally passing it. Which they had to do, because ballot measures cannot be repealed or reformed by the Legislatures until seven years after they’re voted into law.
And this disdain is well earned. BreatheND does not exist to promote public health in North Dakota. It’s an employment program for anti-tobacco activists allowing them to enjoy cushy government jobs while funneling money to their friends in the advertising industry.
I don’t think we’re to see much change in terms of health outcomes for North Dakotans by having fewer preachy television and radio ads shoved down our throats.
In 2017, when the Legislature convenes, we will be past that aforementioned seven year mark. Meaning the Legislature is now free to act on this measure. And in his budget address today (video here) Governor Jack Dalrymple called for eliminating the agency.
“The Executive Budget also directs all tobacco prevention programming back to the Department of Health, and utilizes tobacco revenue to help pay for additional needs in behavioral health, Medicaid costs associated with tobacco use, and costs associated with other smoking-related illnesses such as lung cancer and heart disease,” Dalrymple said in his speech.
Immediately after Dalrymple’s address the Legislature’s Budget Section Committee convened and met with OMB Director Pam Sharp who provided details on Dalrymple’s budget. As you can see from the document below, they’re calling for a full-on repeal of the law authorizing the existence of BreatheND.
And you really have to admire the eloquence of this political maneuver. On the November ballot the anti-tobacco zealots backed a measure raising the taxes on cigarettes by 400 percent, with the bulk of the proceeds directed at veterans and mental heath programs.
That measure failed, but what Dalrymple is proposing does the same thing only instead of using revenues from a new tax Dalrymple is using BreatheND’s budget.
I can’t wait to hear the tobacco zealots argue against that.
I suspect they’ll launch some argument about how this was the will of the voters and the Legislature ought not interfere, but in 2008 the selling point for the ballot measure creating BreatheND was that the state should be using its share of settlement dollars from the class action lawsuit against the tobacco industry for tobacco prevention.
But those settlement payments stop this year. The situation has changed since 2008 when voters cast their ballots. It’s entirely appropriate that the Legislature act based on a different set of circumstances.
Lawmakers are going to have a lot of tough budgeting decisions to make starting in January. There simply isn’t room in the budget any more to fund some professional anti-tobacco activists whose job it is to harass North Dakotans about their lifestyle choices.
Dalrymple is only governor for another week, but based on conversations I’ve had with lawmakers this proposal will be a priority during the session.