The Daily Gazette: Groups: Cuts Hurt Anti-Smoking Effort
(January 12, 2010)
January 12, 2010
The state's fiscal problems are putting the squeeze on anti-smoking programs offered through nonprofits such as the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition, officials said. The coalition provides services in Albany, Schenectady and Rensselaer counties.
The state plans to reduce spending on tobacco prevention and control by $10 million, to $51 million this year. Several years ago, the state spent more than $85 million on the effort.
Theresa Zubretsky, project coordinator for the coalition, said the state's funding cuts will "turn back progress we have made. New York state has an exemplary program. We have reduced the smoking rate from 25 percent to 16 percent since 2002."
The coalition saw its state funding drop 21 percent from $418,000 in 2008-2009 to $329,000 for 2009-2010. It has not seen its 2010-2011 funding yet. The agency receives operating grants from the state Department of Health.
Because of the cuts, the American Lung Association gave New York an "F" for efforts to protect residents from tobacco-caused illnesses in 2009. In its annual report card, the association also gave New York an "F" for not offering comprehensive tobacco cessation treatment programs to its Medicaid recipients and state employees.
On the other hand, the association gave the state an "A" for expanding smoke-free areas and an "A" for increasing taxes on cigarettes.
Zubretsky said the coalition uses the state money for community action, the Reality Check awareness program, programs that help schools develop and enforce a comprehensive tobacco-free policy and programs that offset the tobacco industry's marketing efforts toward children and youth.
"As money gets tighter, those initiatives get more difficult. For every dollar invested in tobacco control, there is a saving in health care costs," Zubretsky said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control recommends New York state spend $254 million annually on tobacco control and prevention, Zubretsky said. She said this level of funding would further prevent and reduce tobacco use.
"Funding in New York has never even come close to reaching the standard set by the CDC," Zubretsky said. Still, she added, "We have made great strides, which are in jeopardy because of the funding cuts."
The American Lung Association said New York's excise tax on cigarettes is one of the highest in the nation at $2.75 per pack. Only Rhode Island has a higher tax, $3.46 per pack.
Gov. David Paterson has said an increase in the state's excise tax on cigarettes is possible as a way to balance the budget, but Matt Anderson of the state Office of the Budget said Monday that talk about raising cigarette taxes was speculative. "The budget development process is still ongoing and no final decisions have been made at this point," he said.
Zubretsky said raising taxes on cigarettes reduces the smoking rate. "If the goal is to reduce smoking among the population, and particularly among young people who have less disposable income, it is a good strategy," she said