American Cancer Society goes after the wrong target

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Just last week we reported that the smoking rate in New York City dropped to an all-time low of 14 percent down from 22 percent in 2002. The rate of smoking in the state as a whole has also declined. So we were surprised to read that the American Cancer Society (ACS) is criticizing the state for spending less than the recommended amount on tobacco control programs.

The recently released ACS report finds that the state spent just 4 percent of the revenue from tobacco taxes over the last six years on anti-smoking programs such as TV commercials, hotlines, and free tobacco patches. ACS specifically criticized the state for not following through on its acceptance of the historic 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, in which the participating states including New York promised to devote a certain percentage of the multi-billion-dollar settlement to anti-smoking measures. Governor Andrew Cuomo s spokesman, however, pointed out that the state government has taken steps to close a $10 billion deficit without raising taxes, while still spending more on its anti-smoking program than most other states.

And we must, in large part, side with Gov. Cuomo in this instance. As ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross points out, it s hardly fair to single out New York s government for not devoting the majority of its master settlement money to tobacco control programs; in most states, these funds are being consumed by other budgetary concerns. It seems to me that the ACS is off-base in its measurement of the success of anti-smoking efforts, notes Dr. Ross. They shouldn t be measuring success according to how much money is spent but, rather, according to the results. The recent drop from 22 percent to 14 percent is laudable, and the rate of decline in adult smoking rates is superior to most other states results.