An independent evaluation of the state’s tobacco control program was supposed to be in by Sept. 1, but state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) is still waiting.
The lawmaker, who serves as chairman of the Oversight, Analysis and Investigations Committee, recently fired off a letter to the state Department of Health asking why the agency has yet to follow state law and submit an independent evaluation report of the program. The last report was issued in 2012, and even that was over one year late, he said, which ultimately affects lawmakers’ ability to properly fund the program.
“To date, the legislature has not received a copy of the 2013 Independent Evaluation of the New York State Tobacco Control Program and we were therefore not able to apply the data from that report into our calculations for this year’s budget appropriation,” the March 31 letter read. “As you are aware, the specific purpose of this report is to examine data regarding the effectiveness of and response to tobacco control measures in New York state in each year prior.”
Joining Hevesi in the letter was also state Assemblyman Michael Montesano (R-Hicksville), a ranking member on the legislative body. Both lawmakers said they were concerned over the state’s inability to produce its reports on a timely basis and also failed to disclose who would be conducting the study with in the first place. On Jan. 12 of last year, the DOH’s contract with vendor RTI International expired and has since remained in limbo.
“We know that tobacco use is a huge risk factor for heart disease,” said Julianne Hart, New York state director of government relations for the American Heart Association. “We need an independent evaluator to assess the tobacco control program annually so that we have the data on our side as we advocate for the state Legislature to increase funding to the tobacco control program, our best tool in helping people quit the deadly tobacco habit.”
The most recent DOH report suggested there were “significant developments” in cessation patterns that lawmakers should consider when appropriating funds, Hevesi said. The state has already generated an average of $2 billion in tobacco tax revenues each year, and only 2 percent of the funding – roughly $41.4 million – was dedicated to the tobacco control program.
The program’s budget has gone down nearly 50 percent between 2008 and 2011, Hevesi said, hindering its effectiveness. The solution rested in the state’s ability to adjust funding to a minimum of $127.5 million, which the report said would increase public awareness and cessation.
Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a total $9.4 million allocated towards organizations that combat smoking, but the tobacco control program’s funding has consistently gone down each year.
“The department has a legal obligation to annually audit its tobacco control program. Failing to do so not only limits important information available to policymakers, it undermines the public’s trust in its own government,” said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “The law is the law, state government shouldn’t be allowed to cherry pick what laws it chooses to follow.”
By Phil Corso