The Queens Courier: State's anti-tobacco campaign needs push

BY TIMOTHY N. LYMAN

Friday, November 26, 2010 New York is falling short in its anti-tobacco campaign, according to an annual national report released last week by a coalition of public health organizations.

The report, titled “A Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 12 Years Later,” covers states’ funding of tobacco prevention programs. It was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, November 17.

The state ranked 18th in protecting kids from tobacco, according to the report. In New York, 14.8 percent of high school students smoke, and 24,100 kids become regular smokers each year.

The state will collect $2.1 billion from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend only $58.4 million – 2.6 percent – of it on tobacco prevention programs. In contrast, tobacco companies spend $429.6 million a year – seven times what the state spends on tobacco prevention – to market their products in New York.

“New York faces difficult budgetary challenges, but a failure to fund tobacco prevention would be penny-wise, pound-foolish, and cost the state more in the long run,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “New York’s leaders must remember that tobacco prevention is a smart investment that saves lives and saves money by reducing tobacco-related health costs.”

Tobacco claims over 25,000 lives and costs $8.2 billion in health care bills each year in New York State alone.

New York increased its tobacco funding this year by $3.2 million. However, this still falls short of the $85.5 million the state provided in 2008 and comes nowhere near the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation of $254.3 million for allocation. Only Alaska and North Dakota currently match the CDC’s recommended level.

New York raised the state cigarette tax to $4.35 a pack this year, as part of its anti-tobacco campaign, and the American Heart Association actually praised New York City.

“New York has the highest excise tax in the nation and continues to lead the way in implementing effective tobacco control interventions,” said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, an American Heart Association spokesperson. “We’re proud to stand strong with the City of New York, working to foster a smoke-free city for all New York City residents and visitors.”

“From smoke-free parks and beaches to increasing effective media strategies, the City of New York continues to have tremendous potential in improving public health by reducing the number one cause of preventable death in our city, tobacco use,” Steinbaum said.

However, the programs’ leaders still feel enough isn’t being done overall.

“New York has made tremendous gains in the fight against tobacco,” said Myers. “But these gains could stop and even reverse unless state leaders increase funding for tobacco prevention programs.”

“The system still under-serves smokers trying to kick the habit and could do much more to discourage our youth from ever picking up their first cigarette,” Steinbaum said.