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Jeanne Prom, executive director of BreatheND, presented her testimony in January to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee in support of a bill to continue to fund the North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy, or BreatheND, which former Gov. Jack Dalrymple proposed to eliminate in his final budget address. In January, 10 people — from respiratory therapists, doctors and public health representatives — testified in support of the bill to fund the agency. 

When a program’s successful it makes sense to continue it. That’s the case with BreatheND, a small state agency created by voters to use a portion of the state's tobacco settlement fund for a comprehensive tobacco prevention program.

According to BreatheND, its efforts have resulted in fewer youth and adults smoking in the state. BreatheND, or the Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy, says it has helped cut youth smoking rates in half since 2008 -- from 22.4 percent to 11.7 percent in 2015. It also says adult smoking rates have dropped from 21.9 percent in 2011 to 18.7 percent in 2015.

BreatheND argues it can continue to reduce the smoking rates if it is allowed to operate. Whether that happens depends on the Legislature. Former Gov. Jack Dalrymple, in his budget address to legislators, recommended abolishing the agency and returning tobacco prevention and cessation programs to the state Department of Health. At a recent hearing, legislators argued the move would end duplication of services.

Jeanne Prom, executive director of BreatheND, said BreatheND works with the health department so they complement each other and avoid duplication. They have a common goal – to end smoking.

BreatheND works with local public health units to reduce tobacco use, with about 83 percent of its budget going out in grants and contracts, Prom said.

BreatheND was created in 2008 after voters passed a measure to use a percentage of the state's tobacco settlement fund for a comprehensive tobacco prevention program. Supporters of the measure argued not enough of the settlement money was going to combat smoking. Not all legislators were happy with the vote, feeling they were in a better position to decide how best to use the money.

That lingering resentment may be playing a role in the effort to end BreatheND. Under the measure, legislators couldn't end the agency until this year.

BreatheND argues the long term results of its efforts won’t be known for years. As smokers quit and potential smokers don’t take up the habit, it should result in a healthier nation. It should reduce the heart disease and cancer rates which will result in lower costs.

The personal-finance website WalletHub this week released a report on the cost of smoking in each state. WalletHub’s analysts calculated the potential monetary losses brought on by smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.

In North Dakota, they found the income loss per smoker was $233,298; total cost per year for a smoker was $23,467; and the health-care cost per smoker was $159,156.

A report released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids looked at the billions of dollars states have received since they settled lawsuits against major tobacco companies in 1998. With $10 million set aside for fiscal year 2016, North Dakota is one of two states to spend at levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was one of five states to spend at least 50 percent of what the CDC recommends.

BreatheND and its staff of eight has been effective in its short existence. It doesn’t make sense to go in another direction when there’s a program with proven results. The Legislature should keep BreatheND.