Letter: Gov. Rauner, restore funding for tobacco quitline

To the Editor:

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has suspended the grant that funds the Illinois Tobacco Quitline. The ITQ received 95,000 calls in 2014 and has helped smokers quit, thereby saving the state millions of dollars in health care costs.

Tobacco use causes some of the most feared and costly diseases, including cancer, heart disease and emphysema. It harms reproductive health and damages nearly every organ in the human body. It’s a fact: Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., killing 500,000 people every year – more than any disease.

We should not quit the fight against tobacco.

To this end, every state in the country has a Tobacco Quitline, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a national awareness campaign on the harms and effects of tobacco use called “Tips From Former Smokers.”

This unprecedented nationwide marketing campaign encourages smokers to call their state quitlines, and such calls have increased 240 percent during the campaign.

Unfortunately, when smokers in Illinois call their quitline, no one will be there to help them.

Facts: 18,300 Illinois residents die every year from smoking. The annual health care cost of smoking in Illinois is $5.49 billion, or $986 per household.

These government expenditures are derived from state and federal taxes. The portion covered by the state Medicaid program is $2 billion.

We all pay for smokers.

Of further concern, the quitline is not funded by taxpayer dollars. It’s funded by Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement dollars from a 1998 settlement between 46 states and the major tobacco companies.

The MTSA dollars are supposed to be used to reimburse the states to help cover the costs of caring for sick smokers, saving both lives and state money.

Funding the quitline and other prevention and cessation programs was exactly how states were supposed to use MTSA dollars.

Even during these difficult budget times, eliminating a smart, fiscally responsible investment that will ultimately save taxpayers’ money and improve the health of our community seems short-sighted.

Gov. Rauner, please restore the grant that funds the ITQ and help us save the lives of our fellow residents, as well as save the state millions of dollars in health care costs.

Kevin L. Kovitz, MD, MBA

Member of the American Lung Association Local Leadership Board in Greater Chicago