Community faces loss because of program closureState funding cuts have cost Clatsop County its tobacco prevention program. Tobacco education specialist Sunny Hunt was laid off Sept. 30, after money for the program ran out.

Hunt's departure means no support for a variety of programs aimed at reducing smoking and chew-tobacco use among youth and adults.

Hunt's position, and similar programs around the state, were funded with state cigarette tax revenue. Last spring, the Oregon Legislature diverted those funds to deal with the state's budget shortfall.

Clatsop County's share of the cigarette tax funds was $39,750 a year. The county was able to continue the program by reducing

it to part-time, but the funds finally ran

out at the end of last month.

"We know money spent on tobacco prevention is money well spent," said county Human Services Supervisor Alice Beck. "We know how huge a health risk it is."

Hunt served as staff person for the Clatsop County Tobacco-Free Coalition, a volunteer group of local professionals and citizens dedicated to community education. "Now the coalitions exists without anyone to provide any support," Beck said.

Among the programs Hunt worked on were training for shopkeepers about rules on tobacco sales to minors, a cessation program at Tongue Point Job Corps Center, the "Take it Outside" campaign to reduce parents' smoking around children, presentations to schools and community groups, and coordination of other local tobacco prevention efforts. She also helped produce a smoke-free diner's guide.

"All these pieces work to educate the community about the hazards of tobacco use," Beck said.

The most recent state statistics show the North Coast has the highest rate of smoking among eight graders at 19 percent. Also, one in five pregnant women in Clatsop County reported that they smoked - well above the state average.

"If we take the money away, we will see those rates increase," Beck said.

The county Commission on Children and Families funds alcohol and drug education programs in local schools that include information about tobacco use, and those programs will continue.

"Kids will still get a consistent message about alcohol and tobacco. What will not be there is the follow-through, the community education," Beck said.

Not all state-funded tobacco programs have ended. The Legislature restored funding for the Oregon Quit Line, which offers free assistance for people seeking to quit smoking at (877) 270-7867.

Locally, Columbia Memorial Hospital offers free counseling and referrals. Contact Marilyn Schreiner at 325-4321, Ext. 6564. Providence Seaside Hospital offers "How to Quit" classes. Contact John Vitron at 717-7230. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Astoria offers a program; call 325-0610.

Upon request, the county Health and Human Services Department will provide tobacco cessation resource pamphlets. Call 325-8500.

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