Northlich, Cincinnati, has handled the creative and media efforts for the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation since 2002, winning a review against other shops in late 2007.
"It's a tragedy that such a successful program may not continue," Northlich CEO Kathy Selker said in a statement. "I can't begin to express the depth of the personal and professional commitments our people made. ... When you know that 40% fewer teens smoke today than when we began this program, you know we've made a true difference."
Digging for dollars
As job losses mount in Ohio, legislators raided the foundation's coffers to find extra cash to fund a $1.5 billion economic-stimulus package. Lawmakers took $230 million of the $270 million in the foundation's endowment. Just $40 million will be left to fund anti-smoking efforts in the state, and any efforts will now be controlled by the Ohio Department of Health. State officials estimate that after meeting contractual obligations for 2008, less than $25 million will be available for anti-tobacco programs.
The dismantling of the foundation marks the end of a protracted and ugly feud over the last month between state legislators and foundation officials.
In what The Columbus Dispatch called a "huge miscalculation," the foundation even tried to keep lawmakers' hands off the money by transferring the cash to the coffers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a nonprofit based in Washington.
Ohio lawmakers reacted swiftly and angrily, passing a law to confiscate the money. The foundation fought back, suing the state and sparking a court battle. A judge then froze the funding. The clash ended when lawmakers simply passed a law to disband the foundation's operations and dismiss its staff of 17.
The battle's denouement also marks the end to what had been a slow drain over the years of what was to be a $1.2 billion endowment created by Ohio's share of the national tobacco litigation settlement.
Since Ohio lawmakers created the foundation in 2000, there have been frequent raids on the cash totaling $560 million to plug various holes in the state budget.
Without the grabs for cash by lawmakers, anti-smoking campaigns might have run indefinitely in the state, where 18,600 people die from tobacco use each year.
Northlich's 2008 contract with the foundation included $13 million to fund "The Stand" campaign, which consisted mostly of billboard and TV ads. The rest of the money was spent on a quit line and counseling programs managed by the foundation.
Foundation officials issued a statement that emphasized the success of its program, claiming they have led to a 40% decline in smoking rates among youth and a 15% decline among adults. It called the tobacco industry "a formidable opponent" that spends "$724 million a year in Ohio alone to market products that kill Ohioans."