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New York Gets Failing Grades for Anti Smoking Program Funding

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 5 in spending on tobacco prevention ads now ranks number 20, and Governor Cuomo and the legislature budgeted just under $41 and a half million dollars for the anti smoking campaign in 2012.  That’s just 16% 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 dollars 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. Governor Andrew 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 nearly top in the nation cigarette taxes bring in around $3 billion dollars a year, so there is 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% of new Yorkers still smoke, many more 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 state’s health department 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 ten years, use of tobacco products by High School students declined by 37%, and smoking by Middle School students decreased by 54%.

New York does score some points on another priority issue for the American Cancer Society, banning teens from using tanning beds. Governor Cuomo and the legislature agreed to a new law preventing New Yorkers 16 and younger from using the 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 Cancer Society plans to lobby for anew 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 public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.