Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 – New York Governor Mario M. Cuomo is planning some serious budget cuts for the next fiscal year. Among them is one of his more controversial proposals – to slash and burn funds allocated for tobacco control. Just four years ago, the State of New York devoted $85 million to tobacco control, but if the $5 million cut Cuomo has proposed is approved, funding will drop to $36 million this year.
For a cash-strapped government still swimming upstream against the tides of recession, this move makes sinister sense — at least from a purely fiscal perspective. These spending cuts may adversely affect public health, but at least for the short term, they will also help balance New York’s growing budget deficit. New York already collects a combined $2 billion a year from a 1998 legal settlement with big tobacco and from tobacco taxes; presumably, cuts in tobacco control spending will increase or at least maintain the current number of cigarette -addicted New Yorkers, thereby raising tobacco tax revenues.
On the flipside, health groups devoted to controlling smoking and reducing tobacco-addiction assert that these budget cuts will have especially harmful effects on lower-income residents in Western and Central regions of New York State. According to advocates cited in an article on timesunion.com, there is a direct correlation between how much the state spends on anti-smoking marketing (chiefly referring to media advertisement, but probably some “No Smoking” Signs as well) and how many smokers take the first step toward kicking their addictions. The statewide smoking rate is just 15.5%, the lowest it’s ever been, but the smoking rate for New-Yorkers who earn less than $15,000 annually or who never graduated high school, has remained at 23% for the past decade.
The Cuomo administration’s anti-smoking initiative has been successful thus far, but these spending cuts could slow progress and put further stress on the state budget down the road. Every year 24,000 New Yorkers die from smoking, amounting to half of all cancer deaths in the state. Eventually, New York State may be forced to shoulder the financial burdens of skyrocketing health-care costs for cancer patients, especially if these patients are from lower-income segments of the community.
But no matter how much money you make, we can all agree that smoking is a major health issue. Let’s just hope that all states can find a way to reduce tobacco use, even with reduced funding.
– Z. Miller