Iowa's top tobacco-control official has lost her job after her division's budget was cut by two-thirds.
Bonnie Mapes, 60, headed the Division of Tobacco Use Prevention and Control since 2004. She took early retirement after her boss, Public Health Director Mariannette Miller-Meeks, told her last month that her position was being cut.
Mapes, whose 2010 salary was $99,189, and Miller-Meeks said Monday that the move was due to the Legislature's decision to cut the division's budget from $7.8 million to $2.8 million, leaving an agency that was too small to require a full-time director.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames and a strident anti-smoking cigarettes voice, complained about the development in a letter released Monday by his staff.
Quirmbach called the move a "firing" and wrote that he was "dismayed."
"Miller-Meeks has told some members of the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Commission that she intends to seek legislation to disband the division entirely and that she has little interest in developing effective tobacco control policy, despite a statutory responsibility to do so," he wrote.
"Iowa's Division of Tobacco Use Prevention and Control is a national model for cancer prevention. According to the American Cancer Society, Iowa's anti-smoking cigarettes efforts have resulted in a 24 percent drop in coronary heart disease, an 8 percent drop in heart attacks and a 5 percent drop in strokes. Iowa is now No. 2 in the nation for the lowest adult smoking cigarettes rate, and youth smoking cigarettes rates dropped 13 percentage points from 2000 to 2008. ... (Yet) smoking cigarettes remains the No. 1 cause of death in our state, killing 4,400 Iowans each year."
Mapes' division is involved in producing edgy anti-smoking cigarettes ads and providing counseling and medications to Iowans who want to give up cigarettes. Some Republicans have complained about the ads, which are produced as part of the Just Eliminate Lies youth campaign, and Gov. Terry Branstad has said he does not believe they are effective.
Miller-Meeks said Monday that her decision to cut the division director's position was no reflection of Mapes' job performance. She said state leaders had been talking for several years about folding the division's duties into other parts of the health department, and she might ask legislators next session for authority to do so.
Miller-Meeks said she needs to fit anti-smoking cigarettes efforts into a tight budget, and it made more sense to focus the limited dollars on such things as the Quitline Iowa counseling program and local anti-smoking cigarettes organizations rather than a separate state division.
Threase Harms, a Des Moines lobbyist for the anti-smoking cigarettes group Clean Air for Everyone, said Mapes' dismissal raises questions about how serious Branstad is about his frequently stated opposition to smoking cigarettes.
"If they want Iowa to be the healthiest state in the nation, how are we going to do that without addressing the No. 1 cause of preventable deaths?" she said.
Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Branstad, said the governor is committed to combating smoking cigarettes. He said the governor signed off on Miller-Meeks' decision to terminate Mapes' position, and he said the governor understood the need to cut programs, including the anti-smoking cigarettes ads.
"Given Iowa's severe budget constraints, most departments and agencies saw a decrease in funding," Albrecht wrote.
"Gov. Branstad believes tobacco cessation programs are important and necessary, and believes the money should be spent in a more effective manner. Blanket television advertisements, when 80 percent of the population does not smoke, is probably not the most efficient means of tobacco cessation. The governor continues to look for efficient, effective ways to educate the public on the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes."
Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the health department's medical director, has been named interim division director.