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New Mexicans who call the nicotine Quitline are out of luck

1-800-QUIT-NOW has been turning New Mexicans who call the Quitline away, telling them the service isn't available in the state due to a budget shortfall and to try back in September. The New Mexico Department of Health also halted the tobacco prevention work of its Nicotine Use Prevention and Control Program contractors back in May.

New Mexicans who call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, a program to help people kick nicotine products, are being turned away. The state has also instructed local organizations doing smoking prevention work to stop their projects.

When New Mexicans call the Quitline, they’re told that, due to a budget shortfall, the service is unavailable in the state and to check back in September. The resource has been suspended since June 29, according to a notice sent out by the New Mexico Health Department’s Nicotine Use Prevention and Control Program (NUPAC), which funds it.

Additionally, community organizations that contract with NUPAC to do prevention work say the program notified them in early May to suspend those efforts — about two months before their contracts were set to end.

Spokesperson for the Department of Health David Morgan said the agency was “forced to make tough decisions” in the face of an “unexpected budget shortfall” in the tobacco settlement funds that finance NUPAC. Those included prioritizing the Quitline through the end of the fiscal year, while cutting off contractors earlier.

The Department of Finance and Administration credits a decline in tobacco product sales last year with the decrease in funds.

Alex Ross-Reed, director of the Health Equity Alliance for LGBTQ+ New Mexicans, said her organization lost the remaining money in its nicotine prevention budget and was told that funding for this fiscal year wasn’t guaranteed either. The Department of Health is currently approving contracts for the next four-year funding cycle, according to Morgan, at which time prevention services will be reinstated.

Kenneth Winfrey is co-chair of the New Mexico African American Tobacco Prevention Network. He told an interim legislative committee last week that May’s notice came without warning and that NUPAC asked his organization to give back $6,000. He said this wasn’t the first time the funding, which he described as “inconsistent and unreliable,” has dried up.

“We’ve counted almost a whole year of lost time over the past several years that we couldn’t work because there was no funding for it,” he told the panel of lawmakers.

Legislators on the Tobacco Settlement Revenue Oversight Committee expressed concern over the latest stoppage. Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Bernalillo, questioned why the health department hadn’t requested a budget adjustment or sought out supplementary funding amid a record state surplus. She called the amount NUPAC would need to continue funding the efforts “pocket change” in the scheme of the state’s budget.

“For them to just say, ‘Oh, we’re out of money. So, people who are doing good things in the community, you’re out of luck.’ And smokers who finally come to the [decision] ‘I’m ready to quit,’ and they call — how many more years until they decide [to call] again?,” she asked. “It seems totally backward.”

The committee plans to question the department at their next meeting on Sept. 6.

Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Bernalillo, requested that the Department of Health notify the committee of any immediate plans to resume funding for the Quitline. Spokesperson David Morgan told KUNM that the Quitline is also being held up by the vendor selection process for the new funding cycle that’s underway. He said the resource will be reinstated once a contract is approved.

We will continue reporting on NUPAC’s budgetary issues and the state of nicotine prevention and cessation services as we learn more.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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