Associated Press: Report faults NY over anti-smoking funding

Published: September 19, 2011 By MICHAEL GORMLEY. The Associated Press  

ALBANY -- New York State collected $10 billion in tobacco taxes during the past six years but spent just 4 percent of it to stop smoking in what cancer-fighting groups called counterproductive budgeting and a broken promise.

A report released yesterday by the American Cancer Society finds that the state spent an even smaller fraction during the last fiscal year: Just 2 cents of every $1 collected in tobacco taxes went to keep youths from starting to smoke and to get adults to quit, the study found.

The groups called that a broken promise by Albany from when it raised cigarette taxes and accepted the settlement by tobacco manufacturers to end civil actions over the high cost of public health care for smokers.

"Despite the fact that we took steps to close a $10-billion deficit without raising taxes, New York still spends more on our anti-smoking program than most other states," said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's budget spokesman, Morris Peters. He wouldn't comment on whether funding might increase in Cuomo's 2012-13 budget proposal.

"With the highest tobacco tax in the nation, ranking in the middle of the nation is nothing to crow about," said Blair Horner of the American Cancer Society, a co-author of the report.

"The money collected in New York goes up in smoke," Horner said. "Very little of it gets spent on anti-smoking programs."

The report said New York spends just 16 percent of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tobacco control programs. New York spent $85.5 million on tobacco control programs in 2007 and now spends $27 million less per year, according to the report. About 2.5 million New Yorkers smoke and more than 25,000 New Yorkers die each year of smoking-related causes, the report stated.

Still, the report cites national statistics that show teenage and adult tobacco use is falling faster in New York than the national average despite budget cuts for cessation programs in recent years. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last week the percentage of people who smoke in the city has dropped to 14 percent from 22 percent in 2002, a decline of 450,000 adult smokers.

The reduced funding for anti-smoking programs such as TV commercials and hotlines and free tobacco cessation patches has come as all parts of the state budget have been cut during a fiscal crisis.

Cancer prevention groups including the American Lung Association said the state's efforts, including banning indoor smoking and raising taxes, has helped to drastically reduce the share of teenage smokers, most of whom begin smoking at 14 years old, according to the report.

"If we are going to encourage people to quit, we need to give them the tools," said Julie Hart of the American Heart Association.