Public Health Groups Deplore Assembly Action in Eliminating Tobacco Control Funding in Budget

ALBANY, NY (03/14/2011)(readMedia)-- Public health groups including the American Lung Association in New York, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids expressed shock and dismay at the state Assembly's proposed budget released this weekend, which eliminates funding for the state's Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program. This weekend, both the State Assembly and State Senate majorities released their one-house budget bills, which detail how each house believes the state should spend its resources.

New York's Tobacco Control Program, a division of the Department of Health, implements evidence-based and promising strategies to prevent and reduce tobacco use. As a result of programmatic efforts, youth and adult smoking rates in New York have fallen faster than the nation as a whole, and are at their lowest levels on record. The program funds important services, including the New York State Smokers' Quitline, which helps free people from an addiction that kills 25,000 New Yorkers each year. The program also funds community-based efforts which discourage youth from ever beginning to smoke. When the economic cost of smoking in New York already exceeds $14 billion annually, cutting back on a program that helps reduce these costs defies logic.

"Earlier this year, the Lung Association released its State of Tobacco Control Report which gave New York an 'F' for the level of funding it commits to tobacco prevention and control," said Irwin Berlin, MD, Board Chair, American Lung Association in New York. "When so many New Yorkers are dying and suffering from smoking-caused diseases, we need our elected officials to invest more in tobacco control efforts, not less."

"The state's Tobacco Control Program works, and by eliminating funding in the budget bill it introduced this past weekend, the Assembly will make a bleak future for New York," said Donald Distasio, CEO, American Cancer Society of NY & NJ. "More death, suffering and misery from tobacco. Smokers trapped in a deadly addiction with no way out. An increasing number of kids taking up smoking. Much higher long-term healthcare costs for New York's taxpayers. We urge the Assembly to amend its budget document to include the full appropriation as recommended by the Governor in his budget proposal."

"Why would New York stymie the progress it has made in fighting the deadly effects of smoking? ," said Julianne Hart, Government Relations Director of the American Heart Association. "Cutting the tobacco control program now only means higher health care costs later. It's short-sighted and a disservice to New Yorkers."

"The proposed elimination of New York's model tobacco prevention program would be a disaster for the state's kids and taxpayers," said Kevin O'Flaherty, Northeast Regional Director of Advocacy for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "It would put at risk the progress New York has made in reducing tobacco use, saving lives and saving health care dollars. What it means is more kids will start smoking, fewer smokers will quit, health care costs will go up at a time when we can least afford it, and – worst of all – more New Yorkers will die from tobacco use.

"Even in these tough budget times, it makes no sense to cut this life-saving and cost-saving program, O'Flaherty continued. "Preserving New York's successful tobacco prevention program would take less than 3 percent of the money New York receives from its tobacco tax and tobacco settlement payments."

The groups commended Governor Cuomo and the State Senate for showing a very strong commitment to tobacco control by maintaining proposed funding for the program at last year's levels in their respective proposed budgets despite the challenging budget climate. The Assembly's proposal is cause for alarm as it puts this vital program at risk of being excluded from the final budget bill the Legislature will send to the Governor.

"We need to get the message out to every state Assembly member and Senator that this funding is essential to New York's public health," said Irwin Berlin, MD of the Lung Association. "Investing in tobacco control saves lives and saves the state money by reducing smoking attributable health care costs. We simply cannot afford to cut this program."

The groups are urging New Yorkers to contact their representatives in both the Assembly and the Senate to urge them to support a final budget bill that includes the original allocation of $58.4 million for the Tobacco Control Program proposed by Governor Cuomo.