New York's fiscal crisis is now expected to have to take another $10 million from the anti-tobacco program to help balance the state budget. Anti-smoking forces believe the proposal would end a TV ad campaign and eventually cost more in health care costs.
"That means a tremendous fall off of service," said Russ Sciandra, the director of the Center for a Tobacco Free New York. He said the latest cut is about three times the reduction most other state programs have faced, cutting funding to about $58 million this year from about $85 million a year ago.
Good riddance, said Audrey Silk of New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment.
"That department should be eliminated completely," she said. "While they report they have been effective, their reports are based on surveys of people reporting their own smoking habits. In a climate where you are so stigmatized and demonized for being a smoker, who will answer honestly?"
"It's a waste of taxpayer money. I'm sure the vast majority of New York state residents would like to see their tax dollars used on other things, such as transit, Medicaid and schools."
Sciandra, however, attributes a drop in smoking in New York, including teenagers, to the state's various programs and advertisements to discourage tobacco use. New York has among the highest cigarette taxes in the nation, was one of the earliest states to ban indoor smoking in public places and even banned the sale of tobacco products at the State Fair as part of its goal to become "the healthiest state."
Gov. David Paterson proposed the cut as he seeks to address a $3.2 billion deficit and comes after other cuts in funding earlier this year as New York struggles with a worsening fiscal crisis.
Sciandra said the latest cut, now in front of the Legislature, would also reduce funding for programs that provide free nicotine patches and help Medicaid patients to quit smoking. Besides saving lives, he says the programs have saved the state millions in health care costs.
"This is the kind of forward thinking we have," Sciandra said in disgust after Paterson released his plan Tuesday. "We have a program that is saving money, so let's cut it to the bone, way more than others. Why? Because it's easy."
Paterson has been a strong supporter of anti-smoking campaigns and other programs to improve the health of New Yorkers. But he said the dire fiscal condition requires him to cut even programs he tried to champion as a state senator.
Matt Anderson, Paterson's budget spokesman, said funding for anti-smoking programs will remain over $50 million.
"We will continue to conduct a statewide advertising campaign, provide free nicotine patches to smokers, and operate the toll-free 1-866-NY-QUITS help line, among other initiative," he said. "Even in an environment of limited resources, we'll continue to build on the success we've had in helping New Yorkers quit smoking."
The proposal is expected to be part of negotiations through the weekend.