Gov. Rauner under fire for Tobacco Quitline cut

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner heard from several organizations Wednesday that upset with his decision to cut funding to the Illinois Tobacco Quitline as part of his cost-cutting measures to trim the state’s deficit.

While the tobacco funding was just part of the $26 million in cuts in social services the governor announced in an executive order earlier this month, Wednesday was the day the Illinois Tobacco Quitline ceased operations, According to the American Cancer Society, Illinois is now the only state in the country without some type of tobacco quitting hotline.

Rauner’s action, said the head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, was “shortsighted, misinformed and tragic. In the name of cost cutting it will not only cost lives, it will actually cost the state more money.”

Matthew Myers said in a statement that the decision came in the middle of a national ad campaign encouraging smokers to call quitlines. “There simply is no valid reason for abolishing a program that saves lives and saves the state millions of dollars in health care costs. The Quitline is a vital and cost-effective resource in the fight to help smokers quit and reduce tobacco's terrible toll onIllinois,” he said.

The national ads, he added, “have an immediate and strong impact on viewers. Just in the first 10 days since the most recent ads started running onMarch 30,Illinoishas seen a 240 percent increase in calls to the Quitline. In 2014, more than 96,000 smokers called asking for help to quit their addiction.”

In the United States, the Cancer Society said, tobacco use kills more than 480,000 people and costs$170 billionin health care every year. “InIllinoisalone, 18,000 people die from smoking every year and$5.5 billion annually goes to pay smoking-related health care costs, including$1.9 billionfrom the state Medicaid program,” it said.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and 52 other organizations sent Rauner a letter calling on his to restore the funding for the Illinois Tobacco Quitline.

“We are deeply disappointed by this proposal and the significant impact it will have on the health and economy in Illinois. The Illinois Tobacco Quitline plays a critical role in reducing the deadly burden caused by smoking in our state. Illinois cannot afford to shut it down,” the letter said.

According to Capital Fax, the governor’s responded by acknowledging smoking is a serious health issue, but then said the state budget had a hole that must be filled without borrowing or raising taxes.