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Rep. Antonio Delgado will be sworn in as N.Y, Lieutenant Governor on Wednesday
Commentary & Opinion

Blair Horner: The Great American Smokeout

The nation just celebrated its 37th annual “Great American Smokeout.”  The Great American Smokeout has been offered as an opportunity for smokers to think about quitting and as an opportunity to reflect on society’s gains against the tobacco menace.

And big changes have occurred over the decades.  Nationally, the smoking rate peaked at 42 percent when the U.S. Surgeon General’s report was issued and proved the link between smoking and cancer.  Today the nation’s smoking rate is 19 percent, and here in New York that rate is even lower.

Tremendous strides have been made.  During the nearly four decades of the Great American Smokeout, millions of lives have been spared the illness, disease and early death from smoking.   In addition, the nation’s health care system has saved billions of dollars on the treatment of smoking-caused illnesses that would have occurred if the smoking rate had not declined.

While the Great American Smokeout offers the nation a chance to celebrate, there still is much more that needs to be done.

The vast majority of smokers still start this deadly addiction when they are minors – under the age of 18.  Lung cancer is still the nation’s leading cause of cancer deaths.  The nation still spends tens of billions of dollars treating smoking-caused diseases.

And the tobacco companies continue work overtime in their efforts to dream up new ways to avoid regulation.

Here are the key facts about smoking in New York:

·         Among adults the highest smoking rates are among the youngest people.

·         Each and every year, the state spends over $8 billion – of which nearly $3 billion comes from Medicaid – for health costs resulting from smoking.

·         Upstate New York – the area that has had the least regulation of smoking – generally has both the highest smoking rates, as well as the highest lung cancer rates. 

New York has seen a big drop in smoking rates over the past few decades, but there is evidence that its decline has stalled.  New York’s overall smoking rate has essentially remained unchanged over the past two years – a trend that’s been seen across the nation.

Currently, 45 million Americans are regular smokers who, if they remain smokers, can on average expect to live 10 fewer years. Half will die of a tobacco-related disease, and many others will suffer for years with smoking-caused illness.  Smoking adds nearly $100 billion to the annual cost of medical care in this country.  Even as some adult smokers quit, their ranks are being swelled by the 800,000 teenagers who become regular smokers each year and by young adults who, through advertising and giveaways, are now the prime targets of the tobacco industry.

The New York State Smokers’ Quitline was established in 2000 to provide individualized telephone counseling to adult smokers who want to quit.  Smokers can get info by calling 1-866-NYQUITS, or 1-866-697-8487.

While individual actions can do good for those involved, for most smokers quitting is extremely hard.  As I just mentioned, the state offers as Quitline for smokers, but due to a series of deep cuts to advertising that promotes the tobacco control program, the call volume has declined.  Despite raising well over $2 billion in revenues, it has been cutting (or trying to cut) its anti-tobacco funding for the past four years.

Now is not the time for the state to be cutting back its efforts.  Young people and children are still becoming addicted, health care costs are still too high, and the misery and disease that result from tobacco use is still mind-boggling.

The first step to helping New York kick the habit occurs in the governor’s budget proposal coming out in January.  If the governor proposes to add revenues to the state’s anti-tobacco efforts, lives can be saved.  Here’s hoping that next year’s Great American Smokeout offers New Yorkers the opportunity to celebrate – not only those who individually quit smoking, but the state for funding those programs to help make that success possible.

Blair Horner is the Vice President for Advocacy for the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division. His commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of the American Cancer Society.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of this station or its management.