Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes cutting $5 million from the current $41.4 million for state anti-smoking programs this year as he contends with a nearly $2 billion deficit.
Rebecca Guarino, program coordinator with Project Action of Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery Counties, said Tuesday it is her understanding the cut is set to hit the money used to advertise the Smokers Quitline.
While it may save the local agencies from direct cuts, she noted it could mean fewer people decide to try and quit smoking.
This undated photo provided by Reality?Check of Fulton, Montgomery and Hamilton counties, shows Canajoharie Middle School Students Against Destructive Decisions President Jessica Hoyt tracing SADD Treasurer Ashley Darling. They were doing this with Reality?Check to represent the 70 New Yorkers that die every day from a tobacco-related illness, Justin Hladik, a program coordinator with Reality?Check, said.
"The less [the state] advertises Smokers Quitline, the less calls they'll get," she said.
She noted for the local anti-smoking groups, it likely means they will spend more time and money directing people to resources they can use to quit smoking; meaning there may be fewer resources they can use for their programs.
Justin Hladik, a program coordinator with Reality Check of Fulton, Montgomery and Hamilton counties, said a worker with the state Smokers Quitline informed him since Jan. 1, they have received thousands of calls from people interested in quitting smoking.
"People are reaching out [because of advertisements]" Hladik said.
Many states have looked at cutting funding for anti-smoking programs during the recent tough times, when the alternative is to cut schools or hospitals. Many states also raided anti-smoking funds from a landmark $246 billion national court settlement funds from the tobacco industry for 15 years.
Ohio took $230 million set aside for tobacco prevention, used it elsewhere despite a court challenge, and liquidated the state's Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation. New Hampshire depended mostly on the 1998 federal tobacco settlement for its cessation programs, but much of it was diverted for other budget needs in recent years. Iowa cut its anti-smoking programs nearly in half and eliminated the job of its tobacco-use prevention and control director last year.
Meanwhile, some Californians are pinning their hopes on a June ballot initiative to raise cigarette taxes to fund cancer research, a move boosted by cycling champion Lance Armstrong's $1.5 million donation to stop kids and adults from smoking.
Colorado lawmakers have drained money intended for tobacco cessation for years - even though voters amended the state constitution in 2004 to prevent it. Lawmakers have gotten around that by declaring the state in "fiscal emergency" every year since 2008.
Philip Morris USA, among the tobacco companies paying into the national tobacco settlement, gave more than $55 billion to states - money that should have been spent on cessation and prevention programs, said company spokesman David Sutton. In addition, New York raised the cigarette tax to the highest in the nation, at $4.35 per pack.
Philip Morris USA "continues to believe states should use [tobacco settlement] funding to fund youth smoking prevention and smoking- and health-related initiatives," Sutton said.
State Health Department spokesman Michael Moran says the program works, but fiscal constraints require more efficient use of tobacco funds. He said the state is trying innovative programs to keep youths from smoking.
The share of Americans who smoke has fallen dramatically since 1970, from nearly 40 percent to 20 percent down to about 46 million adult smokers now. But smoking levels haven't changed since about 2004.
Audrey Silk is a national spokeswoman for smoker's rights and the founder of NYC CLASH, a smoking advocacy group that operates nationwide. Her website screams how anti-smoking funds would better be spent on schools, to keep firehouses open and reduce taxes. She's also pushing a boycott of businesses that ban smoking, the law in many states unless waivers are sought.
"With all of their efforts, the smoking rate has remained stagnant since at least 2004," said Silk, founder of NYC CLASH, a smoking advocate group that operates nationwide. "It's not that some adults who smoke still 'haven't gotten the message.' They did and have answered, 'Go away and leave me alone.'"
Hladik noted while $5 million may not sound like much in the context of the state budget, it could have more of an effect on Fulton County than many other places.
Guarino noted for 2009, the overall upstate smoking rate was 18.9 percent, while nearly 25 percent of the Fulton County population smokes tobacco products.
"It takes [help] away from people who need it the most," Hladik said.
Hladik said in the long run, anti-smoking programs will save the state money. While cutting the money may save money in the short term, treating the diseases that will result from more people smoking will cost the state even more, he said.
He noted the state already has reduced funding for anti-smoking programs since 2008.
In the 2008-09 fiscal year, the program was cut from $80.4 million to near its current level, a nearly 50 percent reduction.
Hladik said members of Reality Check have reached out to state politicians in the Assembly and Senate to make them aware of the pain the reduced funding could cause.
"We hope by reaching officials, that they will realize in the long term the state will save money," he said.
Both Hladik and Guarino said whatever happens with the budget, both agencies will continue to push for their respective anti-smoking programs.
According to its website - realitycheckhfm.com/ - Reality Check of Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery counties is " a component of the New York State Department of Health Tobacco Control Program which allows teens to expose the tricks, lies and manipulations that the tobacco industry relentlessly uses to get teens to start smoking." The organization focuses on getting tobacco out of PG-13, PG and G rated movies, getting tobacco advertisements out of youth-read magazines and getting tobacco ads out of retail stores.
Project Action has pushed for stores to reduce the visibility of tobacco products to children and has worked to enact tobacco free policies for some public parks.
"We will do what we can," Hladik said. "But every cut is a blow to the impact of our program."
A U.S. Surgeon General's report due to be released Thursday will come down hard on states that have cut anti-smoking funds in tough fiscal times, said Terry Pechacek, who oversees the report as director for Science in the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report can't result in sanctions, but it has proven to move public opinion in the past to force changes by tobacco companies in how they sell cigarettes, how states fund efforts and how the federal government regulates the trade.
"It is a hard-hitting report and it's going to say, 'Why haven't we ended this epidemic? Why are we still feeding all these replacement smokers into a deadly industry?'" Pechacek said in an interview while opposing proposed budget cuts in Albany.
"We've been saying since 1964 that we are going to do something about it, and we are basically in a stall," he said.
There are increased federal efforts to cut into the smoking rate. The Food and Drug Administration is planning to spend about $600 million over five years to educate the public about the dangers of tobacco use.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story