Politics
12:50 pm
Fri March 9, 2012

Advocates: N.Y. cigarette tax could go further to snuff out smoking

New York has the highest tobacco taxes in the country, inhaling more than $1 billion a year. That's why cigarettes cost $11 a pack.

The lion’s share of that money goes into the state’s general fund. According to a coalition of anti-smoking advocates, including the Cancer Society and American Heart Association, only four percent of smoking tax proceeds are spent on the state’s Tobacco Control Program. The fund aims to educate New Yorkers about the health risks associated with smoking or chewing.

Now, anti-smoking advocates are urging the Cuomo administration to reconsider a proposed $5 million cut to the program.

That follows the Thursday release of a 900-page report from U.S. Surgeon General that shows that youth smoking rates aren't declining as much as they have in the past.

Subtle, but effective

The study is significant because, for the first time, a surgeon general concludes that young people choose to use tobacco partly because of what they see through mass media, like movies, television, advertisements.

“As opposed to a huge show with fireworks, [tobacco companies] are much more subtle, but it’s very effective,” says Maansi Bansal-Travers, a behavioral research scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo.

The best defense to this trend is a renewed commitment to state programs aimed toward youth, she says.

“Their half-an-hour health class is minimal compared to the amount of marketing they see on a daily basis from the industry,” Bansal-Travers says.

The tobacco industry spends a $1 million a minute on marketing in the United States - and about $1 million in New York State, according to the surgeon general’s report.

Last year, Albany allocated $41 million for the Tobacco Control Program a year, only pennies of every tax dollar collected. 

“I think that’s almost amoral,” says Gary Giovino, who edited a portion of the new surgeon general’s report. He is chair of the Department of Health Behavior at the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Many states have become reliant on tobacco taxes to balance their budgets, which means they need people to keep smoking, says Giovino.

“There’s certainly concern [that] states do become dependent on the dollars. Over a decade ago, a tobacco executive [was quoted] as saying, ‘We like it when governments get addicted to tax money from our product'." says Giovino. “This is the kind of tax from a public health perspective I would hope we would look forward to never collecting some day.”

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