Sedgwick County commissioners rejected about $327,000 in federal and state money for anti-tobacco and teen sexual health programs Wednesday.
On a 3-2 vote, the commissioners approved applying for $1.9 million in annual grants to support local programs in family planning, AIDS testing and prevention, immunization, and women and infant health.
The money, a mix of state and federal funds, is administered by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
The commission’s cuts include $169,256 for the chronic disease risk and reduction program, which primarily involves helping public and private organizations go tobacco-free.
Also rejected was $158,445 for the personal responsibility education program, or PREP. That pays for health workers to train Wichita school district teachers in how to teach ninth-graders about teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
The decision to drop the grant funding will lead to layoffs for two, possibly three, Health Department employees, said Adrienne Byrne-Lutz, county health director.
Byrne-Lutz said the chronic disease prevention program primarily worked to promote smoke-free environments.
For example, she said, its two tobacco educators are active with Wichita State University, which is moving toward establishing a tobacco-free campus, and with local apartment owners who want to take their buildings smoke-free.
County Commission chair Richard Ranzau said his mother died at age 56 from smoking-related cancer and he supports tobacco cessation.
But he said he doesn’t think the programs funded by the grant are the best strategy.
“I don’t have any evidence they’re effective, and beyond that, there are plenty of initiatives in the private sector to address this issue,” Ranzau said.
He said the situation was similar to January when commissioners rejected state grant funding for diabetes and obesity reduction programs because the causes of those problems are well known.
Commissioner Jim Howell said he would prefer to see a program to reduce smoking by urging smokers to switch to e-cigarettes, an electronic alternative.
E-cigarettes deliver nicotine to the user without other carcinogens in cigarette smoke. Howell said he’s researched the topic and that e-cigarettes appear to be a much safer alternative.
But in the county program, “the message is tobacco’s bad, e-cigarettes are bad, and you’re telling people things they may already know about cigarette smoking,” Howell said.
Regarding sex education, Byrne-Lutz told the commissioners that the PREP program was done at the request of the school district.
While the schools do teach sex education in ninth grade, “they found that it wasn’t being provided consistently,” Byrne-Lutz said.
“There were varying levels of comfort levels of the educators, so they would skip portions of the curriculum,” she said.
The PREP program sent Health Department experts to work with the teachers, she said.
“We could then train the trainer so they could continue and effectively communicate (to reduce) STDs and teen pregnancy,” she said.
Ranzau and Howell, who was a state legislator until January, said they think the teacher-training program should come from school funding rather than the health budget.
“The last budget I looked at from USD 259 was about $630 million for about 50,000 students,” Howell said. “I guess if they wanted the Health Department’s input, they could provide some funding to bring that expertise in if they felt like that’s what they needed to do.”
Commissioners Tim Norton and Dave Unruh argued for continuing the funding for both programs.
Norton said anything the county can do to reduce tobacco use is a plus.
“The idea that everybody knows about it and we can stop is not true,” Norton said. “Everybody knew about measles and that we needed to get rid of it back in the ’50s and ’60s, and we did. And now we’re back in the soup with measles. Everybody doesn’t know that measles will come back if you don’t immunize your kids.”
On sex education, he said schools, parents, clergy and health officials all have a legitimate role in educating children.
“The Health Department does have a mission to try to talk about the health implications of sex,” Norton said. “The schools teaching knowledge and then the Health Department helping them describe the health implications is very important.”
Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.