Amid criticism, Cuomo adds $9M for tobacco-free programs (Updated)

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo today announced more than $9 million to be awarded to local organizations that fight against teen smoking.

The state Department of Health’s Bureau of Tobacco Control will award funding amounts from $325,000 to $500,000, totaling $9.4 million already allocated to the department in the state budget. The money will go to 25 local organizations around the state over five years. Local organizations must submit applications by Tuesday, Gannett’s Ashley Hupfl reports.

GrollCuomoAP“We have made a lot of progress in making our state healthier by reducing smoking but there is more we can do to make New York smoke free,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Through these awards, we are using community-based strategies to combat tobacco use and promote chronic disease prevention. This funding will support the prevention and reduction of smoking helping New Yorkers be healthier and live longer.”

The funding comes after Cuomo was criticized for not spending more on anti-tobacco programs. The New York Public Interest Research Group released a report last week that found tobacco companies are spending more to thwart tougher laws, while the state has cut funding for tobacco-control programs.

Blair Horner, the legislative director for NYPIRG, warned the tobacco industry’s influence is returning. He said state funding has been flat for anti-tobacco programs in New York.

“I think the governor’s announcement is an attempt to distract the public to the cuts to the program,” Horner said. “The governor has advanced cuts to the state anti-smoking program for the last two years. This year he calls for flat funding. New York was once a leader in this area and is now a follower.”

Updated: Cuomo aides said the announcement has nothing to do with NYPIRG’s criticism and the initiative has been in the works for months.

Last week, Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi knocked the NYPIRG report and said tobacco use is on the decline.

“This commitment has helped result in a teen smoking rate in NY that’s hit a 14-year low. Despite what special interests may lead you to believe, the answer is not always more money,” Azzopardi said.

If accepted into the program, called Reality Check, local organizations will target youths aged 13-18 to engage and educate them about the dangers of tobacco and work to limit exposure to secondhand smoke. Local organizations will involve youths in supportive peer groups to work to reduce and eliminate the tobacco industry’s marketing practices, state officials said.

“Tobacco addiction is still the leading preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in New York State as well as the United States,” said Nirav Shah, state health commissioner, in a statement. “If we can work together to create a tobacco-free state, we can significantly lessen the impact of tobacco on the lives of all New Yorkers.”

About 25,000 people die prematurely because of cigarette use in New York each year and nearly 570,000 residents have serious diseases linked to smoking, the state said. Youth is believed to be especially vulnerable to experimenting with tobacco use and most adult smokers began smoking when they were teens, the state said.

However, teen smoking has been on the decline, a report found.

The state Department of Health found in a 2013 report teen smoking has decreased 56 percent since 2000 in high school youth and decreased 70 percent in middle school youth.

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