Albany Times Union: Use tax money to help smokers quit (Letter to the editor)

(July 26, 2010)

Albany Times Union logo 

Published:  Monday, July 26, 2010

With this month's cigarette tax increase, New York has the highest tobacco tax in the nation.

As a member of the Coalition to Help New Yorkers Quit, the Hispanic Federation applauds the state Legislature for taking this action. Now, let's put some of this additional revenue toward helping folks quit.

Earlier this year, the American Lung Association gave New York an "F" grade for its smoking cessation coverage, and making that grade an "A" should be a top priority for our state's leaders.

According to the association, New York spends more than $14 billion annually on medical expenses and lost productivity because of tobacco-related illnesses. Funding smoking cessation can save these precious dollars and help save the 25,000 lives lost yearly.

Medicaid recipients should have access to all smoking cessation options. Massachusetts recently did this and 26 percent of those receiving Medicaid benefits quit smoking in only two years.

Medicaid should promote available smoking cessation benefits to plan members and clinicians. Information should be easy to read, in multiple languages.

Finally, public and private employers and health insurers (including the state) should make all treatments available without barriers to access.

Health reform will require smoking cessation coverage, so New York should take the lead in establishing the gold standard.

Lillian Rodriguez Lopez
New York City

The writer is the president of the Hispanic Federation, an organization of 98 Latino health and human service providers in the Northeast.