by: Allison Latos Updated:
MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. - Funding to stop teen smoking is getting snuffed out in North Carolina.
Lawmakers eliminated most of the money for anti-tobacco programs statewide, and that means huge cuts to Mecklenburg County.
Caroline Debello is a rising Myers Park senior. This fall, Debello's passion to stop smoking was supposed to be a part-time job. She planned to travel the state to share her message for an organization called TRU, Tobacco Reality Unfiltered.
When lawmakers voted on the state budget in Raleigh, they slashed anti-tobacco funding.
TRU's budget decreased from $17.3 million to $2.7 million.
"To stop that, I don't know how you have the guts to do that," Debello said. "I think it's ridiculous."
The Mecklenburg County Health Department is taking a hit too by losing $300,000 and three health educator positions.
Sen. Andrew Brock told Eyewitness News he voted for the budget.
"Smoking rates were dropping and we needed money to fill in Medicaid," he said.
Rep. Craig Horn also voted in favor of the budget.
"I think that we can reduce state spending in this specific area so that available funds can be reallocated," Horn said.
Debello isn't sure the low youth smoking statistics will stick.
"I'm afraid it's going to completely reverse and shoot sky-high, and we're not going to be able to control it after that," she said.
Debello added, "It is disappointing. It's awful and it's heartbreaking that we can't keep doing this to try and make a difference in the state."
Mecklenburg County's Health Department will have one anti-tobacco job left. Health officials said that person will focus on eliminating secondhand smoke and making more businesses 100 percent smoke-free.