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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – WellCare of Kentucky announced on Tuesday that it will award $20,000 in grants to support community efforts across Kentucky to reduce tobacco use and promote smoke-free environments.

The investment was announced at today’s annual Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy conference hosted by the University of Kentucky College of Nursing’s BREATHE team.

Organizers say nearly 26 percent of adults in Kentucky smoke – one of the highest rates in the U.S. –meaning one out of four Kentuckians has a higher risk of tobacco-related conditions such as heart diseases including high blood pressure and heart attack, stroke, asthma and emphysema, and most cancers including lung cancer. Exposure to secondhand smoke is a cause of heart and lung diseases and lung cancer and also is associated with higher rates of ear infections and asthma attacks, particularly in infants and children.

Proponents of funding smaller, grassroots efforts to curb smoking in the state point to a pilot grant in 2016 which funded a program in Adair County designed to influence local policies on tobacco use. As a result, the Smoke Free Adair County Coalition was able to purchase local advertising and marketing materials to raise awareness about the need for a smoke-free ordinance in the county.

“We are grateful for WellCare of Kentucky’s visionary support and collaboration as we work together to develop new ways to meet specific health needs in our local communities,” said Jelaine Harlow, a health educator with the Adair County Health Department. “These grants will not only support innovative new programs, but will help protect families across Kentucky from the harmful impacts of smoking.”

WellCare provides similar, small grants of $1,500 or less twice a year in Kentucky. These grants support organizations working to improve health outcomes in their communities and are meant to help provide niche services or seed money for programs with a potential lasting impact.

”I applaud WellCare for motivating local advocates to take bold community action to address the enormous health and economic toll from tobacco use,” said Ellen J. Hahn, PhD, professor and director of UK’s BREATHE team. “One hundred percent smoke-free workplace laws are the most effective way to immediately save lives and money. Making Kentucky a better place to breathe will help reverse the cycle of sickness that is killing our loved ones and impoverishing our state.”

“As the state’s largest provider of Medicaid health care services, we see the devastating impact tobacco use has on smokers and non-smokers alike. WellCare understands that reducing exposure to hazardous tobacco smoke will improve health across Kentucky, and this grant program is a step toward reaching that goal,” said Terri Flanigan, vice president of field health services, WellCare of Kentucky. “Tailored health advocacy efforts in individual communities can be incredibly powerful, and these funds will enable community health leaders, volunteers and student groups to implement strategies in their hometowns to reduce the impact of smoking across our state.”

Qualifying organizations can apply by completing a short application online at http://www.thecommunitycommitment.org/micro-grant-request-submission. The application period is open until May 15, 2017. Awardees will be notified in June. For more information about the grants, email elizabeth.starr@wellcare.com.

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