Associated Press: Anti-smoking efforts at risk under state budget cuts, advocates say

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By MICHAEL GORMLEY Associated Press

Published: Saturday, November 27, 2010

ALBANY -- New York's budget cuts have left the Empire State ranked 18th in the nation in efforts to combat smoking by kids, with less money being spent on anti-tobacco TV ads and other programs, according to a survey by public health care groups.

"There is a direct relationship between spending on tobacco advertising and the decline in smoking," said Russ Sciandra, director of the Center for a Tobacco Free New York. "There are some smokers who are ready to quit and when they see the spot they say, 'OK, I'm going to do it.'"

The report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and other health groups found New York spent 23 percent under the level recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"New York has made tremendous progress in the fight against tobacco, but these gains could stop and even reverse unless state leaders increase funding for tobacco prevention programs," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "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."

For Gov. David Paterson, he says it's an agonizing problem. He has tried to frame much of his administration around two issues: Cutting deficits and promoting better public health for kids.

"New York's severe fiscal difficulties led to cuts in many state programs, and the Legislature reduced funding for tobacco control media advertising," said Jeffrey Hammond, spokesman for the state Health Department. "Our program was able to use federal funds to air two graphic commercials about the dangers of smoking, which led to a dramatic increase in calls to the Quitline."

Hammond said that even with the budget cuts, the state is continuing with proven anti-smoking programs.

He notes this year's cigarette tax increase to the highest in the nation will deter adolescents from smoking, a major goal of the anti-tobacco program.

The public health groups realize their calls to stop cutting funding are similar to the cries of other special interest groups. The fiscal crisis has forced billions of dollars in cuts in most state spending, including schools and hospitals, and the next bite could come Monday in a special session of the Legislature called by Paterson to address the latest deficit.

Audrey Silk of the NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment said the ads aren't effective.

"There is over-saturation now. It is money being thrown down a black hole," she said. "I think the residents of New York state would prefer to see money spent on what affects them at this moment, not what might happen to someone 50 years from now."

The public health groups argue their funding is an investment.

The American Cancer Society says New York's 30 percent cut in smoke cessation funding in recent years contributed to an increase in smokers to 18 percent of the population in 2009, up from 16.8 percent in 2008.

That translates to 105,000 additional smokers in New York and an additional $1 billion in health care costs over the next generation, 60 percent of which would be paid through Medicaid.

The state's advertising campaign encourages smokers to try to quit and promotes the smokers' Quitline: (866) 697-8487. Trained counselors are on call and pamphlets can be mailed. The toll-free number also helps provide the vast majority of smokers who qualify with nicotine patches that double the success rate of quitting, Sciandra said.

In a letter this month to Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo, the American Cancer Society suggested a pilot program aimed at helping state employees stop smoking and cutting into an estimated $175 million a year in added health care costs and lost productivity.

The cessation counseling in the proposed program for state employees could yield almost $9 million in direct savings a year, or $2,800 per employee who quits, said Peter Slocum of the American Cancer Society in New York.

"This demonstrably saves money," Sciandra said of anti-smoking funding. "It's an investment."

The American Cancer Society this month also criticized Paterson's proposal to allow the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans to open a casino in the Catskills. The state has agreed to allow the tribe to ignore state indoor smoking bans because tribes on sovereign land don't have to follow state laws. Instead, the casino will have nonsmoking areas.

Cancer Society spokesman Slocum called it "backsliding and a bad deal for the health of New Yorkers."

"This agreement freezes in place the bad old days of smoke-filled rooms, subjecting the nonsmoking majority to the pollution generated by the small minority that still uses tobacco."

Anti-tobacco funding

A new report shows only two states for fiscal year 2011 are funding tobacco prevention programs at levels recommended by the CDC, and only 10 states reached 50 percent of the recommended funding. Below are the top five spenders in millions of dollars for fiscal year 2011, the bottom five spenders and New York, which was the 18th best spender.

State Current Funding Recommended Percent

1 Alaska* $9.8 $10.7 92%

2 North Dakota* $8.2 $9.3 88.1%

3 Hawaii $9.3 $15.2 61.1%

4 Montana $8.4 $13.9 60.4%

5 Wyoming $5.4 $9.0 60%

18 New York $58.4 $254.3 23%

47 Tennessee $222,268 $71.7 0.3%

48 Missouri $60,000 $73.2 0.1%

49 Nevada $0 $32.5 0%

49 New Hampshire $0 $19.2 0%

49 Ohio $0 $145.0 0%

* Alaska and North Dakota currently fund tobacco prevention programs at the CDC-recommended levels if both state and federal funding is counted

Sources: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation