Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his budget. Unlike previous budgets, there was no line item for the State's Tobacco Control Program. Instead, the governor has decided to lump the tobacco control program budget into one pool for chronic disease and prevention, thereby pitting essential programs against each other for vital resources.
While we understand these are hard economic times, we think transparency goes a long way. As everyone knows, a budget states clearly an administration's priorities. While we have had tremendous gains in reducing smoking rates, we fear they may stall without a robust commitment to saving dollars and lives.
We've come a long way, and our success proves we know what works.
Teenage and adult smoking rates have fallen faster in New York than in the U.S. as a whole. In 2010, 12.6 percent of teenagers, and 15.5 percent of adults, were smokers. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of smokers in New York fell by 700,000.
While we've made great strides, approximately 12.6 percent of high school students smoke while 18 percent of adults are still smoking. And smoking continues to kill 25,500 every year.
Reduced funding would not only lead to higher smoking rates, but would also increase our costs. Currently, tobacco costs New Yorkers an estimated $8.17 billion in health care costs, including $2.7 billion in Medicaid costs as a result of tobacco use. Cutting the state's program that works to reduce these costs by helping to reduce tobacco use is shortsighted.
We know that New York's efforts to provide smokers with the resources to quit and to stop kids from lighting up is already underfunded. Since 2009, funding for the tobacco control program has already been cut in half, in spite of the fact that New York state takes in $2 billion annually in tobacco revenues.
Based on the state's population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends New York spend $254 million on tobacco control and prevention. Last year, New York spent $41 million.
Low-income smokers in New York spend 25 percent of their household income on cigarettes and pay $600 million in state tobacco taxes. Yet, there are limited resources available to help them quit. It is unfair and unjust that the poorest New Yorkers are paying cigarette taxes and not getting the most effective help they need to quit if they've already started.
Tobacco control saves lives and money. With the limited number of prevention dollars that already exists, the Governor's proposed consolidation of prevention programs may mean fewer dollars invested in tobacco control.
In the end, New Yorkers stand the most to lose -- in more ways than one.