Representatives of the American Cancer Society are urging Republican legislators to drop plans to cut state funding for anti-smoking programs.

“We’re alarmed at the idea of drastic cuts or even elimination of tobacco prevention and cessation programs because we’ve made such great progress,” says Peggy Huppert, Iowa director of government relations for the American Cancer Society. “And we know if we were to do that, we would start backsliding.”

The state spends money on ads, through the “Just Eliminate Lies” effort, which discourage kids from smoking. The state also runs a toll-free hotline for smokers who are thinking about quitting and Huppert’s group is lobbying legislators to spend $900,000 on “Quitline” operations again next year.

“The average smoker attempts seven times to quit before they’re able to do it because nicotine is the most additing substance known to humans,” Huppert says. “It’s more addicting than heroin, so people need help.” 

Legislators last year cut state support for a program that provided two-week’s worth of nicotine patches or gum to smokers who were trying to quit. “Which we’d like to see reinstated,” Huppert says. “It’s a hugely valuable service and most of the people who take advantage of it are low income.”

The state provides classes or counseling for low-income, uninsured Iowans who’re trying to quit smoking, and Huppert says that’s also being targeted for elimination. Huppert and other Cancer Society volunteers held an open house for legislators early Tuesday morning to make their case on this issue.