By Jim Mendoza| February 17, 2015 at 10:39 PM HST - Updated July 21 at 11:45 AM
Since 2005, the Hawaii Tobacco QuitLine has helped 22,000 people stop smoking. Counselors field 400 calls a month from others wanting help. But the money that pays for the QuitLine and other cessation programs has dropped dramatically.
"We have to fight every year to keep those dollars," Department of Health director Virginia Pressler said.
Hawaii gets about $50 million a year in settlement funds. The Department of Health used to get 25 percent of that. It's down to 15 percent. And the Tobacco Trust Fund percentage also plummeted from 25 percent to 6.5 percent. In past years lawmakers have used tobacco settlement money to balance the budget and to fund other things. Anti-smoking advocates hope that doesn't happen this year.
"This is at a time when the tobacco industry has continued relentlessly to target our youth," Pressler said.
In Hawaii, adult and teen smoking is down. But health officials worry if more tobacco money is taken, positive trends could be reversed.
"Each year about 5,000 children in Hawaii try their first cigarette. One in three kids who try it will get hooked on tobacco," DOH Tobacco Settlement Project Manager Lola Irvin said.
There is also concern that having fewer dollars will undercut a campaign against electronic cigarettes.
"Unlike traditional tobacco products, there's no federal restriction that would protect children from obtaining electronic smoking devices," said Jessica Yamauchi of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii.
The Health Department used a press conference Tuesday to celebrate victories in the fight against tobacco, and to remind lawmakers that every dollar taken from that fight may prove costly.
"People don't seem to fully appreciate the importance of prevention and the fact that we have to invest in prevention day after day after day," Pressler said.