Watertown Daily Times (Letter to the editor): Increase funds for tobacco control program

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In a recent poll analysis from Harvard School of Public Health, data showed that Americans have conflicting views about the nation's public health system and are divided along partisan lines in their support of additional spending on public health programs.

A majority supported increased spending on public health in general and saw public health interventions as fiscally responsible in the long term. Three-fourths of Americans believe the U.S. is spending too little on improving and protecting the nation's health. At the same time, many did not favor increased spending in a number of areas that public health officials considered important and did not think their state health department was doing a good job preventing chronic illnesses.

Locally, we face a public health crisis that costs our health care systems at a rate disproportionately higher than the state average. In St. Lawrence County we have a smoking rate of almost 25 percent, while the state average is 18 percent. The costs associated with smoking-related illness are staggeringly high at $6.3 billion statewide annually. The state Tobacco Control Program has been proven to be effective at reducing smoking rates, which will in turn bring down the costs associated with smoking.

However, New York state only funds the program at 23 percent of the Center for Disease Control's recommended level and ranks 18th among the states in the funding of tobacco prevention programs. A recent report from the American Lung Association, "The State of Tobacco Control," (www.stateoftobaccocontrol.org) gave New York a grade of "F" for both tobacco prevention spending and cessation spending.

Tobacco prevention is critical to the health of both our citizens and our health care system. Educating our youth and implementing effective policy changes will keep us on the right path to a healthier and more financially stable future. Funding these programs at the recommended levels would increase public awareness of the issue and provide more assistance for people who would like to quit using tobacco.

Given that tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States and arguably has a more extensive set of evidence-based interventions compared with other public health threats, preserving the state's tobacco control infrastructure should be a priority.

Benjamin Todd
The writer is St. Lawrence County Tobacco Control Program coordinator.