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New York state gets failing grades for anti-smoking programs

Dale M Moore

The American Cancer Society has given New York state a mixed report card when it comes to cancer prevention. The group says the most glaring error is the lack of investment in anti-smoking campaigns.

The American Cancer Society has issued its annual report card, rating states on how well they are doing to prevent cancer through encouraging cancer screenings, banning smoking from public places, and smoking prevention programs.

The report gives New York high grades for breast and cervical cancer early detection programs and for smoke-free laws, but the state gets failing grades for tobacco prevention programs.

New York, which was once number five in spending on tobacco prevention ads, now ranks number 20. Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature budgeted just under $41.5 million for the anti-smoking campaign in 2012. That’s just 16 percent of the amount that the Centers for Disease Control recommends that the state spends on anti-smoking ads. The CDC says that New York should be spending over $250 million a year on tobacco prevention programs.

Blair Horner, with the Cancer Society, calls that a major shortcoming.

New York state slashed anti-smoking programs under former Governor David Paterson, during a multi-year fiscal crisis. Cuomo has not restored the funding in his first two budgets.

Horner says cutting the programs to save money in the budget is short sighted. He says the state's cigarette taxes, which are nearly top in the nation, bring in around $3 billion a year, and that this revenue provides the resources to fully fund the anti-smoking programs.

“There is plenty of money in the system to fund this program,” Horner said. “It’s just a question of political will.”

He says studies show that the investment pays off in decreased cases of lung cancer. Just 15 percent of new Yorkers still smoke. There are many more smokers in the upstate regions than downstate and New York City, which has been a leader in anti-smoking efforts.

In response to the criticism, the New York State Department of Health issued a statement saying that:

“New York’s tobacco control program continues to operate effective, evidence based programs to help people quit smoking and prevent others from ever starting.”

The health department says in the last 10 years, use of tobacco products by high school students declined by 37 percent, and smoking by middle school students decreased by 54 percent.

New York does score some points on another priority issue for the American Cancer Society, banning teens from using tanning beds. Cuomo and the legislature agreed to a new law preventing New Yorkers 16 and younger from using tanning booths.

But Horner says the group is seeking a ban for those 17 and younger. The new law permits 17 year olds to go to the tanning parlors if they obtain a permission slip from their parents.

“The science tells us it’s a known human carcinogen,” he said. “We don’t think children should be exposed to known human carcinogens.”

The American Cancer Society plans to lobby for a new bill to prohibit tanning for anyone under the age of 18, and will also push to get more money committed to tobacco prevention programs in the 2013 state budget.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.