COLUMBIA – The South Carolina House voted today to direct $2.5 million in state cigarette tax collections toward cancer screenings. The measure now heads to the Senate.

The bill would split the $5 million from cigarette taxes that now goes to the Department of Health and Environmental Control for smoking prevention and cessation. The agency would have to put half toward the screening and treatment of breast and colorectal cancers.

House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White doubts the effectiveness of anti-smoking TV commercials funded by the agency, including one running now that features teens and the ghostly “Gray Man” of Pawleys Island. White thinks the money would be better spent on detecting cancer.

“Most every one of us has had someone in the family affected,” White, R-Anderson, said about what prompted the legislation.

Redirecting the money can save lives through a permanent funding source. Legislators previously funded cancer screening with one-time money but haven’t done so for the last two years, White said.

Legislators made the $5 million designation as part of the 2010 law that increased South Carolina’s state cigarette taxes for the first time in 33 years. State taxes rose by 50 cents per pack, to 57 cents, in July 2010. The tax ranks 42nd nationwide, with the nationwide average at $1.46 per pack.

The bulk of that additional revenue goes toward Medicaid.

The executive director of the South Carolina Tobacco Collaborative was at a conference today and could not be reached.

DHEC discontinued its colorectal screening program amid state budget cuts.

The state-funded SCOPE program, which stands for Screening Colonoscopies on People Everywhere, provided 1,113 colonoscopies to poor, uninsured residents between 45 and 64 years old during the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years; seven cancers were diagnosed and up to 34 cases of colorectal cancer were prevented, according to the agency.

DHEC’s breast and cervical cancer program, called Best Chance Network, receives $3.2 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for screening.

Since its 1991 creation through December, the program has screened 90,800 South Carolina women for breast and cervical cancer, providing nearly 140,000 mammograms and 178,000 clinical breast exams. Nearly 21,000 follow-up visits resulted in the detection of 46 early forms of breast cancer, and 299 cases of cancer, according to the agency.

Those services are provided to uninsured, low-income women between 47 and 64 years old.