Breathe ND in danger of closing after committee votes to defund it

BISMARCK, N.D. The voters of North Dakota helped form the Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy, also known as Breathe ND, when they voted to dedicate tobacco lawsuit settlement money to preventing future use. Now, some think the group is no longer needed.

The Senate appropriations committee is sending a bill to the floor that would shutter the agency, after voting to give it $0 for the upcoming two years. ​

Supporters and detractors of doing away with Breath ND can agree on one thing.

"No matter how you feel about tobacco, I bet we can all agree that we don't want young people to start," says Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck.

"I'm hopeful that the percentage will continue to decrease," said Sen. Ralph Kilzer, R-Bismarck.

Cigarrette smoking by North Dakota high schoolers has declined by 24 percent since 2001, but a Breathe ND official says that decline has doubled since 2009, when anti-tobacco ads began running.

"What a shame for ND kids because they deserve to grow up in a tobacco free environment. They deserve to grow up to be tobacco free and we made it easier for them to do that," said Jeanne Prom, Breathe ND executive director.

Kilzer argues the Health Department has done half that work. He says having them take over the job will more efficiently fund public health.

"Hopefully it'll continue on the way down and then we'll have the benefits of some other public programs that are badly needed," said Kilzer.

"They're not moving it. Their actions are very clear. They're shutting down Breathe ND. They're completely repealing the law that created this agency and the good work that it does," said Prom.

Breathe ND says a state trust fund could be used to fund the agency for seven years before additional money is needed.

​The bill will go before the full Senate. If it passes, it will need to work its way through the House before heading to the governor's desk.