For unexplained reasons, the New York State Assembly budget released last week eliminated all funding for tobacco control. No more quit line, no more prevention programming, nothing. We know the budget situation is tough, but there is really no excuse to eliminate a program that already pays for itself and then some.
Here is the deal. Last year, New York State collected more than $1 billion in taxes on tobacco products. In the same year, New York spent less than one penny for every $1 it collected in tobacco taxes on tobacco control. Granted, one penny for every $1 in tobacco taxes isn't a great return on investment, but at least with the current program, smokers had a place to go to get help to stop smoking. A recent Independent Evaluation of New York's Tobacco Control Program reported that smoking rates have declined faster in New York State compared to the rest of the United States, showing that the program is working.
The Assembly's plan is not smart economics. It costs an average of $46,000 to take care of one lung cancer patient and about $30 to help someone quit smoking. Doesn't it make sense to use a small portion of the windfall in tobacco taxes to support programs to actually keep children from starting to use tobacco and help those who do use it to overcome their addiction?
Spending a penny for every $1 collected in tobacco taxes isn't asking for much. Yet that penny investment is working to help prevent a loved one from getting cancer, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Who will benefit if the tobacco control program is eliminated? Those who sell tobacco will benefit since they will be able to keep pushing cigarettes with little opposition, but that is about it. But a lot of people will be hurt if the Tobacco Control Program is eliminated.
Our children will lose since programs to educate them about the dangers of tobacco will be gone. Smokers will lose, because there will be no quit line to help them quit. And taxpayers who pay the health care costs of smoking will lose. It costs every household in New York State about $1,000 per year to subsidize the costs of treating tobacco-induced illnesses.
Whose life has not been touched by the devastating consequences of tobacco use? Cousins, friends, colleagues are gone too soon. The tragedy of tobacco use is acutely felt when those we love most are no longer with us to share life's special moments.
Tell these representatives this insanity has got to stop. Tobacco control saves health care dollars, creates healthier communities and saves lives.
If the Assembly feels it fiscally wise to eliminate funding for tobacco control, then it should also be willing to get out of the tobacco tax-collection business. Let's hope the Assembly leaders get smart and ante up a penny for every $1 in tobacco taxes they plan to collect next year. Isn't it worth a penny to save a life?
K. Michael Cummings, Ph.D., is chairman of the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.