ND Legislature comes closer to cutting funding for Breathe ND

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BISMARCK, N.D. - UPDATE: One lawmaker described it as a funeral of the state's most effective government program as the House voted today to defund Breathe ND.

The project, with eight employees, claims to have helped cut the state's youth smoking rate in half over the past seven years.

Lawmakers are moving most of the agency's budget into the Department of Health, in what they say will be a cost saving move.

The budget of zero dollars now goes to Gov. Doug Burgum's desk.

If he signs the bill, the department will close this summer. ​"​The most important aspect that we're not considering is the human life. People that become addicted to tobacco have a much greater chance of dying," says Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby.

"I feel the Health Department will more than adequatly be able to carry out the duties that were being performed by Breathe North Dakota," says Rep. Gary Kreidt, R-New Salem.

ORIGINAL STORY: The North Dakota House Appropriations Committee voted "do pass" on a bill that would cut funding for Breathe ND, a state agency dedicated to lowering the smoking rate in the state.

Some who support Breathe N.D. say that cutting the agencies funding isn't about saving money.

"I believe that this is politically motivated and it is at the expense of human life," said Beth Hughes.

Hughes is a former respiratory therapist who has seen the effects smoking has had on her patients. She says law makers have targeted Breathe N-D for years; she believes lawmakers want more control over millions of dollars paid to the state every year, through the tobacco settlement program.

"From almost the beginning sought to make Breathe ND go away," said Hughes.

"This is one of the, one of the programs performing the best in state government and we just eliminated," Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby.

Breathe ND says it has helped cut the youth smoking rate in half in just eight years.

"So much human suffering in our state is caused by tobacco use and it's all completely preventable," said Jeanne Prom.

Hughes says she's especially worried about the state's younger population.

"I ache for them, I know a portion of those youth that I see smoking will become addicted smokers," said Hughes.

Breathe ND's budget is around $16 million, all of the money comes from the tobacco settlement fund, not tax dollars.

The appropriations committee rejected an amendment that would fund Breathe ND at 90 percent of their requested budget. Now, that the bill has received a recommendation from the appropriations committee, and it could be on the floor as soon as Tuesday.