ARKANSAS (KFSM) – After weeks of discussion, lawmakers in Little Rock elected to defund the Arkansas smoking hotline, which provides advisers to tobacco users looking to quit.
The proposal was brought up, after legislators said the $1.8 million operations fee would be better used elsewhere in the budget.
“$1.8 million is a lot of money, when you see social workers in foster care are short workers, and we are short the ability to pay them what they need to be paid,” said Bart Hester, State Senator from Cave Springs.
Hester is one of the majority, who supported the defunding. The proposal was heavily favored in Little Rock. However, those who work directly with tobacco users said the defunding would be a bad move for the state.
The Northwest Arkansas Tobacco & Drug Free Coalition said the funding was incredibly useful.
“[Workers] ask questions, they do an interview to see where [callers] are at, and what kind of cigarettes they are smoking,” said Sandy Montero, Project Coordinator for the coalition.
Those who support the hotline will be given an opportunity to share why they want the funding to continue, before the line is officially ended.
“It would be heartbreaking if that funding were to go away,” Montero said. “It is the only resource out there that is free to the community. That is why it is so valuable. Without this line, the community wouldn`t have something to access.”
Hester said insurance agencies are required by law to provide similar services, and with the Affordable Care Act, all Americans should be covered.
“We are doubling up on services that the federal government says everyone already has,” Hester said.
Hester added the new trend of vaping could decrease tobacco use faster than the hotline would anyway.
“I think the free market has to fix this. I don`t think it is the government`s role to control if somebody smokes or not,” Hester said.
Hotline supporters said the loss of funding could result in many choosing a deadly habit, instead of seeking the help they need.
“Without that funding, without the quit line, we wouldn`t be able to eliminate health disparities, or promote quitting,” Montero said.
If continued as planned, the funding for the hotline would end by the end of August 2016.