In addition, The American Cancer Society reports that second-hand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable deaths in The United States. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the United States government spends over $167 billion annually caring for patients with smoking-related illnesses.
A report from the State Health Department shows that the smoking rate in New York State dropped from approximately 21 percent in 2003 to nearly 17 percent in 2008 for adults 18 years and older, and from approximately 20 percent in 2003 to roughly 14 percent in 2007 among high school students. This decline has been attributed to the state’s high cigarette taxes and aggressive antismoking laws.
The decline in smoking rates, however, is not fast enough to significantly impact the health care cost and death rate caused by smoking. Stopping tobacco use is of paramount importance to our public health, therefore we need to find more effective ways of decreasing smoking initiation and enhancing smoking cessation.
Smokers who are willing to quit should have easy and non-judgmental access to smoking cessation programs. We need to establish health centers in our communities that will provide medical and psycho-social services to help people stop smoking.
We can staff these centers with well-trained clinicians such as nurse practitioners, who are knowledgeable about health and wellness, and can provide evidence-based support to people who want to stop smoking. Communities need to advocate for funding for health care centers that provide the necessary services and intervention for smoking prevention and quitting.
New York State receives approximately $1.7 billion worth of revenue annually from tobacco taxes and The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco companies, yet last year the state cut its funding for tobacco control and prevention by almost 30 percent.
The CDC recommends that New York spend $254.3 million per year on anti-smoking initiatives to have an effective, comprehensive tobacco prevention program. This is approximately 15 percent of the revenue New York receives from tobacco taxes and The Master Settlement.
However, it is estimated that New York will only spend a total of approximately $69 million in the fiscal year 2010 on the prevention of tobacco use and smoking cessation. This is less than a third of what the CDC recommends. In other words, the government is not following its own recommendation.
Most of this money is expected to be spent on services for smokers through telephone quit lines and on campaign ads. While these are important aspects in the fight for a smoke-free America, additional comprehensive evidence-based approaches for preventing smoking initiation and getting smokers to quit is essential to successfully reduce tobacco use.
We can reduce the billions of dollars spent yearly on treating smoking-related illness by spending more on prevention services. We pay for the fight to cure cancer and other smoking-related illnesses, but hesitate to fight for the prevention of these illnesses.
New York is progressive in making smoking inconvenient by raising taxes and enforcing smoke-free laws, but continues to cut its funding for tobacco control and prevention. We must urge Governor David Paterson to improve public health and help save lives by increasing, not decreasing funds to the Tobacco Control Program. This is an issue that needs to be at the forefront of our local agenda for smokers and non-smokers alike; prevention is better than a cure.
Cheryl Barnes is a Board Certified Nurse Practitioner with 18 years of oncology nursing experience.