WIVT/WBGH News Channel 34 Binghamton: Deaths Could Rise After Cutting of State's Tobacco Prevention Program

News from American Lung Association in New York:

Since taking a $30 million budget cut over the last two years, the effectiveness of the Department of Health's Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program (TCP) has been drastically reduced, and the smoking rate among New Yorkers has risen, according to health advocates. Health groups today urged lawmakers to adopt Governor Paterson's initial budget proposal and fund the TCP at $63.4 million in 2010-11 Fiscal Year.

Representatives of the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said the cuts, amounting to 35% of the program's budget, are undermining a world-class tobacco prevention program and are leading to increased illness, deaths and health care costs. The cuts, greatly exceeding the average reduction imposed on other public health programs, have weakened the impact and effectiveness of numerous program activities.

The TCP's budget was $85,485,000 in FY 2007-08, but was reduced to $55,124,593 by FY 2009-10. The Governor has proposed a budget of $58,415,000 in FY 2010-11. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends New York spend $254.3 million per year on tobacco prevention

The budget cuts led to:

• A 30% reduction in antismoking advertisements on television, followed by a 25% drop in awareness of antismoking messages among smokers.

• A decline in the percentage of smokers saying in surveys that they intend to quit smoking in the next 30 days. The numbers saying they intend to quit is a good predictor of actual cessation rates.

• A 45% reduction in calls to the smokers' quitline during the first three months of 2010 vs. the same period last year. Data shows a steady decrease in monthly call volume throughout 2009 as advertising for the service dried up.

• A 50% reduction in the number of free Nicotine Patch starter kits distributed to smokers trying to quit. The patch doubles a quitter's chance of success, but cost is a barrier that prevents many smokers from trying it.

• A 1.2 percentage point increase in the adult smoking rate in 2009 to 18% from 16.8% in 2008. The national rate increased a tenth of a percentage point last year.

If the positive trend of the past several years continued, New York's smoking rate in 2009 would have been 16.3%, rather than the actual rate of 18%. That difference represents 105,000 additional New Yorkers smoking; 27,900 more premature deaths from smoking-caused disease; and an additional $1billion in health care costs over the next generation.

The adverse impact of the cuts could have been predicted. Published peer-reviewed studies from other states where tobacco control funding was reduced show that gains against smoking have been quickly reversed. Advocates cited studies from California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Indiana showing teen and adult smoking rates going back up when programs are cut.

One scientist who has studied the issue is Dr. Gary Giovino, Chairman of the Department of Health Behavior at the University at Buffalo, and a member of the TCP Advisory Board. He issued a statement saying, "Progress in reducing smoking prevalence comes when interventions that reduce use are implemented in a strong and consistent manner. For example, mass media campaigns work to increase negative attitudes about smoking, prevent smoking initiation, and motivate quitting. Cutting funding for the program will reduce the effectiveness of our anti-tobacco advertising campaigns, as well as other components of the program."

Dr. Giovino pointed out that only 2.7% of the revenue that New York collects from tobacco excise taxes and the Master Settlement Agreement are allocated to tobacco use prevention.

"We've had concrete, positive results in helping patients quit smoking with a program called 'The Butt Stops Here,' and through our Smoking Cessation Program," said Richard Rubin, M.D., chief medical officer of Seton Health and board member of the American Heart Association. "Cuts made to the program last year mean that we are reaching fewer people with our community programs. New York's rate of smoking is rising, and so will health care costs and death rates. By fully funding the Tobacco Control Program, the state will reverse this trend and improve the health of New Yorkers."

"To maintain an effective tobacco control program which saves lives, New York needs to increase tobacco control funding, not scale it back," said Michael Seilback, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications. "The American Lung Association's most recent State of Tobacco Control Report gave New York an 'F' for its failure to sufficiently fund tobacco prevention and control. We can and must do better."

Kevin O'Flaherty, Northeast Regional Director of Advocacy for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said, "This is what happens when legislators become too caught up in the idea that short-term maneuvers can fix real problems. When 'saving' $30 million actually causes 100,000 more New Yorkers to smoke and New Yorkers spend more than a billion extra dollars as a result, you've got to wonder what they're smoking in Albany."

"Backwards is not the direction that New York wants to be going in, but we continue to slide back with every budget cut to the Tobacco Control Program," said Russ Sciandra, American Cancer Society Tobacco Policy Specialist. "The evidence is crystal clear - the Legislature's short-sighted cuts to this world class health promotion program are having serious human and fiscal impacts. Because of the Legislature's penny wise and pound-foolish approach, people will get sick and die, children will start smoking, and New Yorkers will pay out far more in medical bills, not just in the future, but this year, than they are "saving" by reducing support for this program."