ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — An annual report finds that New York and other states are using just a fraction of the massive 1998 court settlement with tobacco companies on programs to end smoking and to keep kids from lighting up.
New York ranked 21st among the states in funding programs to help smokers quit and to keep youths from starting, despite having the highest cigarette tax in the nation.
The state spends $41.4 million a year on the programs, only a fraction of the $254 million recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, the report shows. New York puts the lion's share of its settlement money into the state's general fund.
The report by the Cancer Society, American Lung Association and other groups ranked Alaska at the top and Ohio at the bottom, but noted that Alabama, which has been among the lowest ranked in the past, hadn't submitted its plan in time to be included in the report.
More than a decade ago, New York was a national leader.
"New York's slide continues and, sadly, it's not surprising," said Blair Horner, vice president for Advocacy, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network of New York and New Jersey. "Over the past few years, funding for the state's tobacco prevention program has been cut by more than half. That means fewer smokers can get the help they need to quit and more kids are trying their first cigarette."
The nationwide $246 billion settlement by tobacco companies ended lawsuits by smokers and governments for the cost of smoking-related health care and Medicaid costs. The report says New York and other states haven't kept their promise to use a significant part of the settlement to fight the use of cigarettes and chewing tobacco and that most states have cut funding for these programs.
The state Health Department had no immediate comment.
New York's anti-smoking campaigns are credited with pushing the smoking rate to historic lows of 15.5 percent for adults and 12.6 percent for high schoolers. In addition, state officials say inroads have already been made in cutting smoking in half among high school students over the last 10 years, using $500 million in state and federal funds.
But Audrey Silk of the smokers' rights group CLASH, said taxpayers' money could be better spent.
"As a nation we're going over a 'fiscal cliff,' but let's spend hundreds of millions every year, duplicated by all levels of government, to eliminate the free will of informed adults to purchase a legal product," Silk said.
The report said New York spends just 1.8 percent of the annual $2.3 billion it receives from the tobacco settlement and from cigarette taxes on tobacco prevention programs. The rest goes to general funds.
The report also criticized the state for recent cuts in smoking cessation programs, including a 30 percent cut in 2010. Those cuts were mostly during hard times for New York state when tax revenues dropped during the Great Recession and in a slow recovery while officials sought to avoid tax increases. State spending in general was cut, although the smoking program's cut in 2010 was far deeper than most.
In 2013, states will use 1.8 percent of the $25.7 billion annual allotment from the tobacco settlement on programs that seek to prevent youths from smoking or helping smokers quit, according to the report, "Broken Promises to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 14 Years Later."
AP Writer Michael Hill contributed to this report.