American Lung Association Disappointed in Cuts to Anti-Tobacco Funding in Proposed State Budget

The American Lung Association is disappointed in Governor Cuomo’s proposal to consolidate public health programs, and is deeply concerned that the State’s Asthma Program is among 30 public health programs to receive a 20 percent funding cut. Asthma is an epidemic in New York, affecting over 1.5 million adults and almost 428,000 children.  Despite being underfunded previously, this program has helped support a 42 percent decrease in the asthma death rate and a 13 percent decrease in asthma hospitalizations in New York State.

“Cutting services to kids and families suffering with asthma is unconscionable – especially when the services and programs on the chopping block have already proven to be an effective means to improving public health and saving the state money on healthcare costs,” said Jeff Seyler, Executive Vice President for the American Lung Association, Northeast Region. “This program has served as a model of success for the country, directly serving over 67,000 children with asthma and showing results when it comes to keeping kids out of emergency rooms.  Why should the state budget be balanced on their backs?”

Over the last decade, New York State has supported asthma work in over 1,700 schools in over 450 school districts. A further reduction in funding will result in less essential services, fewer health care providers receiving education about the guidelines, fewer schools offering asthma self-management services, and fewer families receiving critical support to reduce asthma triggers in their homes. Reductions in asthma funding may result in an increase in asthma-related morbidity and mortality, an increase in Medicaid costs from avoidable asthma-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations, lower school attendance for children with asthma and lost productivity among adults and families impacted asthma.

In addition to cuts to the State Asthma Program, the budget proposal did not significantly increase funding for the Tobacco Control Program to better meet the CDC’s recommended $200 million. In 2017, adult tobacco usage has increased to 15.2%, while the proposed budget includes only $39.7 million for its Tobacco Control Program – less than half its funding level in 2008 and less than 20% of the CDC recommended level of $203 million. The State’s public health groups have previously requested the TCP to be funded at $52 million. Given the budget shortfall this year, public health groups will be recommending an even more modest increase for the 2018/2019 fiscal year.

The Tobacco Control Program funds community-based initiatives that help educate community members about the dangers of tobacco, helps to keep kids from starting smoking and helps current smokers quit their deadly addiction. It is a resource that is especially important to most vulnerable communities across the state.  Increasing funding to the tobacco control program would allow the program to focus its resources on eliminating disparities that currently exist and level the playing field for low income New Yorkers who smoke at higher levels than the rest of the population.

“Over 28,000 New Yorkers a year die from tobacco-caused illnesses and over 10,600 New York kids will become smokers this year.,” said Kristina Wieneke, Director of Public Policy for the American Lung Association in New York  “We understand that responsible budgeting often means making tough decisions, but cutting programs and funding that helps to keep tobacco out of the hands of children – or help families with asthma –  seems like the wrong place to start.” Moreover, with the $10.39 million dollars in healthcare costs related to smoking, increasing the investment in services to help smokers quit would actually help to achieve cost-savings.

A small silver lining was delivered in the inclusion of a state tax on e-cigarettes, however, the American Lung Association deemed the tax of 10 cents/ml to be substandard. A sufficient tax on e-cigarettes would reflect tax parity with traditional cigarettes. This, along with a tax on “Other Tobacco Products” such as cigars and tobacco chew, would more appropriately reflect the reality that over 28% of New York high school students currently use tobacco products. Other Tobacco Products have not seen a tax increase in almost a decade. Adequate tobacco taxes have proved to be an effective tool in keeping kids from starting to smoke, helping adults to quit, and provide revenue for vital cessation programs. In a budget year where public health is taking a hit, the Governor must source additional revenue wherever possible – taxing e-cigarettes and other tobacco products is not only a revenue source, but would also help reduce the use of these products, especially by our youth.

 

STATEMENT FROM AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION