Columbus- About $20 million that is supposed to be used for anti-smoking programs would be used to pay for E-check under a tentative budget agreement in the Ohio House.
The plan would save Cleveland-area motorists the $19.50 cost of a tailpipe test, but anti-smoking groups say it would cost the state much more in the long run.
"Reducing tobacco use is one of the most effective ways to reduce Medicaid costs," said Tracy Sabetta, director of Tobacco Free Ohio.
If money for smoking cessation programs continues to be cut, Ohio could undermine efforts that have helped cut youth smoking by 45 percent and adult smoking by 17 percent, she said.
Many of the anti-smoking programs were paid for with a portion of Ohio's share of the multibillion-dollar national tobacco settlement. The settlement was intended for prevention efforts and to reimburse states for the cost of treating sick smokers through their Medicaid programs.
Since the money began rolling in, however, lawmakers have used it to help balance the budget, build public schools and pay for development programs.
Now, they want to use some of it to pay for tailpipe tests.
House Speaker Jon Husted, a suburban Dayton Republican, defended the decision, saying E-check and anti-smoking efforts are both "public health and respiratory issues."
The much-despised E-check program is required by the federal government and is intended to help spot vehicles that are belching more pollutants than permitted by law. The emissions can irritate lungs, cause headaches and induce coughing and wheezing.
Although some regions of the state are exempt, the test remains mandatory in the seven-county area of Greater Cleveland because of poor air quality.
A House committee is scheduled to continue budget deliberations today. The next two-year budget must be in place by July 1.
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