Rep. Jon Nelson (R-Rugby) rose to speak on SB2024 today saying he was going to “eulogize” what he sees as “the most effective state agency” of his legislative tenure.
The bill removes funding from the state’s Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control, which you know as BreatheND, and clearly Nelson knew which way the political winds are blowing.
That didn’t stop the agency’s supporters in the House from engaging in some hyperbole. “There are going to be more people who are going to die,” Nelson said, crediting the agency with cutting youth tobacco rates in half.
But how much credit does BreatheND really deserve for declines in smoking rates? Rep. Chet Pollert (R-Carrington) pointed out that smoking rates were in decline for at least a decade before the agency was created by the voters in 2008.
I’m not sure it’s accurate to describe BreatheND as a health initiative at all. It was an employment program for political activists who were in charge of funneling some of the state’s tobacco settlement dollars into advertising campaigns.
That’s pretty much it.
People assume that because two things are true at the same time – that tobacco use has fallen out of favor among North Dakotans contemporaneous to the existence of BreatheND – that one must have caused the other. I don’t think that’s true. Correlation is not necessarily evidence of causation.
Knowledge of the health risks has permeated the American consciousness. We all know it’s bad. Some people choose to do it anyway.
All we can do is keep ensuring that people have information about the health risks, and we hardly need an expensive state agency staffed with zealous activists to accomplish that.
This legislation moves the anti-tobacco programs BreatheND was running into the state Health Department and reduces funding. That’s entirely appropriate.
It passed on a 63-29 vote (a much more lopsided margin than you might expect given the length of the floor debate).
Here’s video of the floor debate: