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State gets mixed grades from anti-tobacco group

New York's latest report card from the American Lung Association contains grades at two extremes: two A's and two F's on state tobacco control efforts.

The organization grades all 50 states annually, an effort that highlights the triumphs and setbacks in the war on smoking.

The association estimates in its State of Tobacco Control report, released Wednesday, that smoking costs the nation $263 million a day in health care alone.

"We estimate that 25,000 New Yorkers are going to die this year of smoking-related illnesses," said Michael Seilback, a public policy vice president at the lung association's division in Hauppauge.

One F was given because New York hasn't budged from what the lung association sees as a stingy level of funding for smoking prevention and control programs, especially those to discourage youngsters. The other was for paltry efforts to help current smokers quit.

Fails were given last year for the same reasons.

New York, according to the report, receives $2.3 billion annually from taxes on tobacco products and money from the Master Settlement, the 1998 payout following a multistate lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

The lawsuit sought to recoup money spent on health care for smokers who were treated under Medicaid.

Despite the billions of dollars that flow into New York's treasury because of tobacco penalties, the state spends only $41 million on tobacco control and cessation programs, according to the report.

Still, the lung association gave New York an A for its taxing of tobacco products. The state has the highest tax on a pack of cigarettes in the country, $4.35. The state also received an A for its smoke-free air regulations.

Overall, New York still faces a formidable foe in Big Tobacco, Seilback said, because the industry spends $500,000 daily in New York alone on advertising.

The tobacco industry is also rolling out new products to lure a new generation into the habit, he said.

"Tobacco products are highly addictive and they kill you when used as directed," he added.

Erika Sward, the association's vice president for national advocacy, said new products are creating profit centers for the tobacco industry. They include candy-flavored cigars and so-called BluCigs -- electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes -- that she said are marketed to appeal to youngsters.

Sward said the report blames the federal government for not doing enough to snuff out the ill-effects of smoking and secondhand smoke.

"Our report takes the FDA and the Obama administration to task for not implementing the Tobacco Control Act," she said of a measure that emphasizes smoking prevention and cessation.

The thrust of this year's report, Seilback said, is to follow the money trail. With only a fraction of New York's $2.3 billion in tobacco dollars actually going to control programs, it is difficult to expand health efforts."There could be more community programs," Seilback said. "There are parts of Long Island that could be better served if there were more resources."