Press and Sun Bulletin: New York outshines other states for smoking laws, taxes but not prevention

(January 21, 2011)

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By Cara Matthews •Albany Bureau • January 20,
ALBANY -- New York received failing grades from
the American Lung Association Thursday for the
amount of money it spends on tobacco prevention
and health care coverage for cessation, but it earned
A's for its smoking laws and cigarette tax.

The Lung Association's ninth annual State of
Tobacco Control report evaluates whether individual
states and the federal government are doing what
the group considers sufficient to protect people
against tobacco-related health problems. Eight
states received all F's and no states got all A's.

Scott T. Santarella, president and CEO of the
American Lung Association in New York, said New
York is not doing enough to protect residents.

"While we're obviously pleased with the progress
we've made in increasing the state tax on cigarettes
and expanding smoke-free areas, the reality is that
more than 25,000 New Yorkers are still dying every
year from tobacco-caused disease," he said.

The Lung Association gave the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration a B for its regulation of tobacco
products, and the federal government a D for $1.01
tax rate on a pack of 20 cigarettes.

The federal government received a C for cessation
coverage. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care
Act requires the majority of private health plans to
provide tobacco-cessation treatments. However,
Medicaid, a health care program for low-income
people, provides only limited coverage.

Dr. Irwin Berlin, chairman of the American Lung
Association in New York's board, said there are too
many barriers to treatment in the state.

"We need better coverage for cessation so everyone
can access it," he said.

Berlin, chief of the Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine
Division at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, said
he's witnessed the "grim reality that tobacco use
inflicts on patients."

The state's Medicaid program provides coverage for
medications to help smokers quit, but it covers
individual counseling for limited categories of
recipients and there are annual limits on quit
attempts. More coverage is provided for state  
employees. There is no mandate for private insurers
to cover medications and counseling.

New York's $69.1 million in funding for tobacco-
control programs this fiscal year, which includes
$10.7 million in federal money, is 27.2 percent of
what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention recommends, the report said. New York
has cut its funding of programs by more than 30
percent since 2007.

New York's high marks are for its $4.35 per pack
cigarette tax and its smoking law, which bans
smoking in all public and private facilities except
cigar bars and bars that receive economic-hardship
waivers. Tribal casinos are exempt.

New York raised its cigarette tax from $2.75 to
$4.35 per pack in July 2010 -- the highest in the
nation -- to help balance its budget. That hike will
save an estimated 31,000 lives and prevent 23,000
kids from taking up the habit, the group said.

The report grades states on a limited number of
categories, and New York's marks don't reflect the
success the state has had in reducing smoking rates
and preventing people from becoming smokers,
said Peter Constantakes, a state Health Department

Nationally, the average adult smoking rate is 20.6
percent of the population, compared to 18 percent
in New York. The rate for students in high school is
19.5 percent in the United States and 14.8 percent
in New York.

The latest Health Department statistics show the
high school smoking rate has further decreased to
12.6 percent in New York, Constantakes said. In
2000, it was more than 27 percent, he said.

New York's spending on tobacco control and
prevention was $85.5 million in the 2006 and 2007,
Constantakes said. But the $58.4 million total this
year is still $15 million more than in 2005, he said.

Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA, said
states receive billions of dollars a year in tobacco-
settlement payments from tobacco companies. They
should use it to fund anti-smoking initiatives. States
received a total of $8.8 billion in 2010, he said.

"Not only have the vast majority of those states
diverted billions of dollars that many had hoped
would be spent on prevention of youth smoking and
health programs, now many are seeking tax
increases to help fund some of those same
programs," he said.

The decline in state funding means New York has
not been able to do as much anti-smoking
advertising, said Maureen Kenney, director of the
state-funded POW'R Against Tobacco

OW'R Cessation Center, which serves Putnam,
Orange, Rockland and Westchester counties. One of
the consequences is fewer smokers are getting the
message that they should quit and are seeking help,
she said.