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The Times
  • Funding cuts to hit smoking cessation programs

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  • Want to quit smoking? Think a class could help? Better take it by June 30.
    Further cuts to the state’s tobacco control funding will kick in July 1 and tobacco cessation classes will be one of the casualties, said Eileen Gleason, tobacco cessation officer for the Tri-County Tobacco Cessation Center.
    No one else in Oneida, Herkimer or Madison counties offers the classes.
    The state also will get rid of two smoking cessation centers in Central New York, leaving one as-yet-unspecified center to serve nine counties with a budget of no more than $300,000, according to a state request for proposal for grants for next year, Gleason said. Her center’s budget for this fiscal year is almost $200,000.
    “It’s going to have a huge impact around here,” Gleason said.
    The cuts come just as a community health assessment process for Oneida and Herkimer counties, which have smoking rates above the state average, picked tobacco control as one of its two priority focuses.
    It’s not certain yet whether two state programs with separate funding — one aimed toward youth and one to help businesses go smoke free — will face cuts, Gleason said.
    This is far from the first tobacco cut. The state slashed its tobacco control budget by more than half between fiscal years 2008-09 and 2011-12, according to an independent evaluation of the state’s tobacco control programs posted online last month.
    The report credits state policies with reducing the number of smokers in the state by 700,000 since 2005 and with saving New Yorkers $2.9 billion in health care expenses in 2011. But the evaluation calls for more funding, not less.
    “Continued underfunding of the program threatens continued progress toward reducing tobacco use and risks, perpetuating tobacco-related disparities among the state’s most vulnerable populations,” wrote the evaluation’s authors, RTI International, of Research Triangle Park, N.C.
    That evaluation came out late. It was due last September under the state’s Health Care Reform Act of 2000, but wasn’t available to the public until it was posted online last month. The report is dated December 2012. State officials said the New York State Department of Health was reviewing it for accuracy and completeness.
    “I think one of the biggest takeaways from the report is that the state has continued to cut funding to the tobacco control program; we are not reaching the people who need the help most,” said Michael Seilback, vice president of public policy and communications for the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “Specifically, we have not been able to make significant strides in reducing smoking rates in African American smokers and smokers with low educational attainment, low incomes and poor mental health. We know that these people have the least ability to pay for their addiction.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Asked about the criticism, health department officials highlighted the great progress the state has made in tobacco control, including decreases in the smoking rate of a quarter for adults and 56 percent for high-school-aged youth between 2000 and 2012. They also acknowledged that some groups haven’t seen as much progress and said that they would be the focus of future tobacco control programs.
    Officials also said they could not comment on the request for proposal because it is an active procurement process.
    The state receives $1.9 billion annually from tobacco taxes and revenue from the Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco companies, but spends only 2 percent of that on tobacco control, the report notes.
    At the Tri-County center, previous cuts already chopped the center’s staff from five to one and a part timer, scaled back a program to supply doctors with nicotine replacement therapy and ended a program aimed at college students, Gleason said. With less money and more territory to cover, Gleason isn’t sure how much the surviving cessation center will be able to accomplish.
    “You’re going to lose your presence within your own community service area,” she said. “Let’s face it, we’re so rural and we know, and that report directly shows you, that those who have the highest rates are the low socioeconomic, rural areas and we know we fit that bill.”
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