In this March 13, 2013, file photo, cigarette butts sit in an ashtray atop a trashcan in Portland's Monument Square. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

In Maine, smoking costs more than $800 million a year in health care costs and contributes to nearly 30 percent of cancer deaths. Health advocates called it a serious problem, and they said Gov. Janet Mills is making a mistake by cutting $5 million a year from state smoking cessation programs.

This year Maine is spending nearly $14 million on smoking cessation programs, but Mills is proposing to cut $5 million a year over the two-year budget as part of her proposal to keep state revenues in line with expenditures.

Hilary Schneider of the American Lung Association’s Maine chapter told the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee that this is not the time to curtail efforts to get people to quit.

“In Maine nearly 1 in 5 adults smoke cigarettes, the highest rate in the Northeast. More than 1 in 16 high school students smoke cigarettes, with a high of 1 in 8 in Washington County,” she said. “We recognize that COVID-19 has had a significant effect on the state’s economy, however, cancer does not stop in a global pandemic.”

Schneider said tobacco use is also a risk factor in contracting COVID-19. If the cuts are adopted, she said progress the state has made will be reversed.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.