The former tobacco company executive whose revelations about the industry led to the movie "The Insider" said New York is not spending enough of the money it is getting in its settlement with the tobacco companies on anti-smoking campaigns.
Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, who went public with the tobacco industry's cynical disregard of its own research into the devastating impact of cigarettes on people's health, charged that New York "has not come up to the standards it should" in dedicating settlement money toward the prevention and elimination of smoking.
"How many kids have become addicted since they sat on their hands?" he asked Friday in a talk before doctors and county health officials at Chef's Restaurant.
Through December, New York had received $1.03 billion of the $25.48 billion it is scheduled to get over 25 years as part of the 1997 landmark settlement between state attorneys general and the tobacco industry.
But the state is only allocating $30 million a year on campaigns to help people quit or prevent them from starting in the first place.
"Thirty million doesn't cut it when you've got $25 billion," Wigand said, adding that New York also collects the highest cigarette tax, $1.11 per pack, of any state.
New York is scheduled to increase the anti-smoking budget to $40 million in 2002 and 2003, but then decrease it to $20 million annually.
Cigarette smoking, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kills 30,700 New Yorkers every year. If the current trends continue, 377,000 New Yorkers now younger than 18 will die from smoking.
According to the CDC, an effective, comprehensive tobacco prevention program for New York would cost between between $95.8 million and $269.3 million a year, or approximately $5.28 to $14.85 per resident. New
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York currently spends $1.65 per person on tobacco prevention programs.
"Much to my disappointment, (New York's settlement) money is not being used judiciously," Wigand said, adding that the money should not be going toward building roads and prisons. "It's bothersome that states have squandered that inheritence."
Make no mistake, Wigand said, smoking prevention and cessation programs are effective when they are properly funded.
He cited California, where the $114.6 million a year spent on anti-smoking campaigns since a fund was established in 1990 has led to a 50 percent decrease in tobacco consumption in that state.
Or Florida, which started a tobacco prevention program in 1997. After spending about $93 million on that program between 1997 and 1999, Florida saw its smoking rate drop 40 percent among middle school students and 18 percent among high school students.
California spends $3.55 per person on anti-smoking campaigns; Florida spends $3 per person.
Wigand said one major tobacco company spent $6.7 billion a year on advertising before agreeing to cutbacks in 1998. And although they aren't directly advertising cigarettes anymore, companies have found ways to keep their name before the public, he said.
He pointed to recent commercials by Philip Morris, which sells Marlboro cigarettes along with Miller Beer and Kraft cheese, that tout the company's donations to charitable causes like domestic violence and the arts.
"Where does Philip Morris get the money to fund battered women programs and arts programs?" he asked, saying that more than two-thirds of the company's profits come from tobacco sales. "It ain't coming from cheese slices or Altoids."
Intensive advertising was one of the ways the tobacco companies hooked people on cigarettes, Wigand said, and it's also one of the keys to reversing the process.
One woman in the audience, an advertising professional who had worked for a tobacco company in the past, agreed.
"I can't tell you how inadequate" New York's anti-smoking budget is, said the woman, who didn't give her name. "I would encourage all of you to go to Albany and not ask, but demand, the money to do this properly."