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NY tobacco use report card: ‘A’ for clean air, ‘F’ on programs

A woman smokes a cigarette on the westbound

A woman smokes a cigarette on the westbound platform at the Long Island Rail Road's Hicksville station in August 2011. New York received an "A" for the strength of its smoke-free laws but garnered mixed grades -- including a couple of "Ds" and an "F" -- in the American Lung Association's latest report card on tobacco use and smoking-related policies. Credit: Charles Eckert

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New York has received an A for the strength of its smoke-free laws but garnered mixed grades — including a couple of D’s and an F — in the American Lung Association’s annual report card on tobacco use and smoking-related policies.

The A grade highlighted New York’s push toward clean air, including air free of e-cigarette vapors, officials from the lung association said during a briefing Tuesday. Despite the good news, the state earned an F for insufficient funding for smoking-cessation programs.

Tobacco taxation in New York received a grade of B but a category called “access to quit-smoking programs” received a D as did the state’s failure to pass a Tobacco 21 law, which would bar tobacco-product sales to anyone under age 21.

Suffolk County enacted such a law two years ago banning sales of tobacco products, including e-cigs, to those under 21. Nassau, like many other New York counties, has no such law on the books, lung association officials said Tuesday.

“Our fight is still far from over,” said Jeffrey Seyler, president and chief executive of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, who said yet another generation is being lured into addictive habits via the robust advertising activities of Big Tobacco.

“More than 1 in 4 high school students uses a tobacco product,” said Seyler, of the association’s offices in Hartford, Connecticut, referring to teenagers in New York. He counted e-cigs and hookahs among tobacco products because both can utilize liquid nicotine, an addictive compound. Nearly 30 percent of New York high schoolers use a tobacco product, Seyler said.

He and others from the association, who unveiled the 15th annual State of Tobacco Control report Tuesday, said the document, which covers policies and programs in all 50 states, revealed that most of them and the federal government earned poor grades. New York was among only 28 states to earn an A for smoke-free air.

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Currently, New York allocates $39.3 million annually in the state budget for programs to help smokers quit. But lung association officials say the state should be spending substantially more.

“Thirty-nine million may sound like a large number but when you consider that tobacco is the leading cause of preventable deaths in New York, it simply is not enough,” said Michael Seilback, a vice president of public policy and communications at the association’s offices in Hauppauge.

He said the state should be spending $203 million annually on quit-smoking programs, based on federal recommendations.

Instead, New York spends $10.3 billion to treat a range of chronic, smoking-related illnesses, such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — COPD — and cardiovascular disorders, according to the report.

Seilback said about 28,000 people would die this year in New York of smoking-related illnesses. An estimated 2.2 million adults statewide smoke, the report found.

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