By MICHAEL GORMLEY
The Associated Press
ALBANY (AP) -- New York's top anti-smoking groups are assailing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget proposal as the latest cut to effective programs aimed at saving lives and keeping teenagers from smoking.
In a letter sent to Cuomo over the weekend, the groups urged the governor to back off on what they say would be the another state budget cut to anti-smoking programs including TV ad campaigns. The letter from the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and other groups was obtained by The Associated Press.
Cuomo said in his 2013-14 budget presentation last week that his budget would be "expanding tobacco cessation efforts." His proposal to the Legislature calls for consolidating 89 health awareness and prevention programs into six pools where groups would compete for funds. The budget proposes $40 million for all the programs, including anti-smoking measures, the same total the groups now receive.
The anti-smoking groups say the measure will make the funding of the programs less transparent to taxpayers and ultimately reduce aid. Consolidating budget lines gives the Legislature less power to add or subtract funding under state law.
"Given the lack of transparency we do not know how much, if any, will be invested to help in the Tobacco Control Program," the anti-smoking groups said. "Successful programs that are currently funded as line items in the budget will have to compete for fewer resources. ... It will also create uncertainty for the programs around the state that depend on it. Most importantly, it will likely lead to higher smoking rates in New York."
The Cuomo administration disputed the anti-smoking group's claims.
"Consolidation will have no adverse effect on transparency, access or quality of services," Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said Sunday. "These reforms will ensure New Yorkers receive better and more efficient services at less cost."
Cuomo has turned other areas of the budget into competitive grants, including some school funding and economic development, to create what he says are more efficient plans and better use of scarce tax dollars. He said the structure that funds health programs for prevention, including anti-smoking efforts, is "inefficient and ineffective."
"All providers will have the opportunity to compete annually for new funding based upon their ability to deliver identified health outcomes," Cuomo's budget proposal says.
Anti-smoking programs aren't protected by any well-funded lobbyists and have been a target in tough budgets under the past four governors. Last year, Cuomo sought to cut $5 million from the program in his $132 billion budget. Funding was restored by the Legislature to the previous year's level, about $41 million, which is half of what it was in 2008, when the recession and budget cutting began.
The Centers for Disease Control says that based on its population, New York should be spending $254 million. The American Cancer Society notes that New York's cigarette tax, the highest in the nation, brings in $2 billion that state government uses for general operations, not smoking cessation programs.
The groups insist the state's TV ad campaigns and other programs such as nicotine patches and telephone support lines have worked to curb smoking in adults and to combat the rise in teenagers starting to smoke.
The advocates said about 12.6 percent of high school students smoke while 18 percent of adults smoke. They say nearly 110,000 New Yorkers will be diagnosed with cancer this year and that more than 34,000 will die.