Is Anti-Tobacco Group Accountable?

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Partnership’s results are good, but some chapters do strange things.

FOREST – It is an idea hopefully dead on arrival, but that is not stopping some Republicans and a handful of Democrats from trying to place the annual funding of the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi under legislative control.
 
Gov. Haley Barbour, in his budget proposal, said the annual installments could help fund Medicaid shortfalls. He and other proponents of the idea think it absurd that a chancery court decides how some money is to be spent when every other dime flowing through the state is controlled by the Legislature.
 
Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, has again filed a bill that says only the Legislature can appropriate monies in Mississippi. The bill has died for lack of action in the past, and it probably will meet the same fate this year.
 
Nonetheless, both Chism and Barbour have a point. It is rather ridiculous that a chancery court has appropriated this $20 million annual payment from the tobacco lawsuit settlement when the rest of the money falls under legislative control. It could be logically argued that the court decision sets a bad precedent.
 
But then one must consider why then-Attorney General Mike Moore decided to go through the courts instead of the Legislature to get this done. Perhaps he believed strongly in what he was doing, and he knew that while the Legislature would go along with it for a year or two, the Partnership’s set-aside would one day fall fate to other one-time money funds.
 
If not last year, it would be a safe bet this year would be that year.
 
But it is hard to argue with statistics as to the effectiveness of the Partnership in the state. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, smoking has decreased by 52 percent among middle school students and 28 percent among high school students over a five-year period.
 
Barbour has not ignored these statistics. In fact, the governor lauded the strides made by the Partnership. His only criticism is that the money could be better used to save Medicaid. But in essence, isn’t that what the Partnership is doing? By decreasing the number of young people who smoke, that will save the state money in the long run.
 
Barbour can see that as well. That’s why he proposes that the Partnership raise private funds to continue its work. He has said in previous interviews that he not only believes it can raise money for its programs but that it already is fund-raising.
 
Barbour’s educated assumption would be right, at least for some chapters. Sharon Garrison, spokesperson for the Partnership, said individual chapters are allowed to seek other grants to fund anti-smoking campaigns.
Where the Partnership may run into the most trouble is not the amount of money it spends to curb smoking among young people but in the lack of accountability it has over some of these chapters.
 
Again, the results speak for themselves. If the Partnership programs are working, then so must be the large majority of the individual chapters.
 
But some chapters, such as the Partnership for a Healthy Scott County, leave question marks. The chapter, which serves Scott, Newton, Leake and Jasper counties, is currently seeking to start a public transportation system for Scott County (without doing a feasibility study). It is also active in a few schools with an abstinence (from sex, not cigarettes) program. And it has constructed a technology resource center.
 
These are all laudable programs or goals – even if some have been unwisely undertaken – but they have little to do with curbing under-age smoking. Save a few scholarships given out each year, the Scott County chapter’s anti-smoking campaigns are almost non-existent in the schools.
 
So when the state is talking about cuts that could potentially take away health-care benefits from old or poor people, looking at trimming the Partnership’s funds becomes appetizing.
 
Mind you, it would be an unwise short-term fix, but without better accountability for all individual chapters, not just some or even most chapters, it remains a topic for debate.
 
The ”Is anti-tobacco group accountable?” 
 
Originally written By: Sam Hall,
Scott County Times

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