Daily Gazette: New York slow to help smokers quit, says ALA report

(November 16, 2010)


November 16, 2010

   New York lags behind other states in promoting comprehensive programs and policies to get people to quit smoking and to remain smoke free, according to an American Lung Association report.
   In addition, New York has chopped funding for the state Department of Health’s Smoking Control Program by nearly one third since 2008, despite having the highest tax on cigarettes in the nation. The state’s tax on cigarettes goes into the general fund and not to support anti-smoking efforts.
   The third annual report said New York provides smoking cessation counseling only to pregnant women and postpartum women for the first six months through government-sponsored health insurance programs such as Medicaid. The state said it began offering counseling to adolescents this year for the first time.
   The U.S. Public Health Service recommends seven medications and three types of counseling as scientifically proven to be effective in helping smokers quit.
   The report further said New York does not take the lead in providing smoking cessation treatment programs to its state work force, which numbers more than 200,000, nor does the state have policies to require private and nonprofit health insurance companies to cover anti-smoking treatment and counseling.
   “We think all New Yorkers should have the tools necessary to help them quit. This report shows there are states far ahead of New York in granting that coverage,” said Michael Seilback of the American Lung Association in New York.
   Seilback said most smokers want to quit and have attempted to quit seven or eight times before they succeed. “Some quit cold turkey, but many people need these other alternatives to help them quit and stay quit,” he said.
   The report shows six states with comprehensive anti-smoking benefit coverage for Medicaid recipients, five with comprehensive coverage for state employees and eight with regulations and laws regarding private insurance.
   “New York is not on any of these lists. The state has shown they understand the benefits of expanding coverage, and we are asking them to do more,” Seilback said.
   Peter Constantakes of the state Health Department said New York’s anti-smoking program, “even with fewer resources, offers effective evidence-based strategies that help people quit smoking and prevent others from starting.” He said the passage of the higher cigarette tax, which has raised the average cost of a pack of cigarettes to $9, has had a major impact on adolescents choosing not to smoke, “which is a key goal of our tobacco control efforts.”
   In a separate report issued last year, the American Lung Association showed that smoking costs New York $21 billion annually in direct health care expenditures, workplace productivity losses and premature death.
   Erin Sinisgalli, program director for Seton Health Center for Smoking Cessation, said the state reduced funding to its Tobacco Control Program from $85 million in 2008 to the current level of $55 million. The largest cut was in the media program, which went from $20 million to $4 million. The media program produces anti-smoking advertisements that generate calls to the New York State Smokers’ Quitline. Callers to the line can obtain counseling and free quit-smoking medications.
   New York cut back on smoking cessation programming because of ongoing fiscal problems, Constantakes said.
   The state last produced graphic antismoking commercials this summer, using federal stimulus money. Sinisgalli said as a result of the media cuts, the quitline received 34 percent fewer calls and saw a 50 percent reduction in online nicotine medication ordering and online counseling this year.
   Anti-smoking advertisements are important to counter advertising by big tobacco companies, Sinisgalli said. Big tobacco spends $500 million on advertising in New York alone, compared to the state’s $50 million, she said.
   The Seton center is one of 19 facilities funded through the state Department of Health. It provides smoking cessation counseling to the public and smoking cessation training to health care providers, who then teach the programs to the public. “We are fortunate to still be funded. We do not know what 2011 will look like with the new governor and the new Legislature. They have to see a value in it [smoking cessation programming],” Sinisgalli said.
   Sinisgalli said counseling is an important component in helping people quit smoking and remaining smoke free thereafter. “If they get counseling only, they have a 15 percent success rate. With medication, 30 percent will be smoke free,” she said.
   Sinisgalli said the state is not likely anytime soon to develop policies requiring private and nonprofit health insurance companies to support counseling and treatment. As such, anti-smoking groups have worked with private and nonprofit health plans to get them to provide this coverage voluntarily. “The state supports it, but there is not a lot of teeth behind the effort,” she said.