Fight against tobacco underfunded

5.6 million children alive today will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases unless smoking rates drop, says the latest surgeon general’s report.

In New York, that’s 280,000 children who will have their lives cut short because of tobacco. This is just one of the startling statistics highlighted in the latest report entitled “Smoking and Health: 50 Years of Progress.”

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the first surgeon general’s report on tobacco use which concluded that tobacco smoke was directly linked to lung cancer in men. Since then, 32 subsequent reports have linked smoking to diseases which affect every organ of the body. The latest report highlights new connections between smoking and diabetes, colorectal and liver cancer. Perhaps more alarming is the now documented connection between secondhand smoke and a higher risk for stroke.

“Enough is enough.” This was the sentiment expressed by the surgeon general at the press conference announcing the latest report. As public health professionals, and representatives of the North Country Tobacco Cessation Center and the Adirondack Tobacco Free Network, this is a sentiment we would like to echo.

Enough is enough. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, in New York state 25,000 people die every year from diseases caused by tobacco use. Diseases caused by smoking cost our health care system in New York $8 billion a year, much of which is paid for by the taxpayers of New York. It is estimated each household in New York pays $883 a year for smoking-caused government expenditures. We don’t believe that New Yorkers want to continue losing loved ones to tobacco, nor do they want to carry the financial burden of the added health care costs that stem from tobacco use.

Enough is enough. Each day, more than 3,200 youth (younger than 18 years of age) smoke their first cigarette and another 2,100 youth and young adults who are occasional smokers progress to become daily smokers. Tobacco industries enlist retailers (their most important marketing partner) to display their products in highly visible areas where youth will see them every time they shop. The surgeon general reports that tobacco advertising at the point of sale is directly linked to the initiation of youth tobacco use. The CDC reports that 18.1 percent of youth in the U.S continue to smoke. Tobacco products need to be made less desirable, affordable and acceptable to help reduce youth tobacco rates.

Enough is enough – a message doctors need to continue to deliver. Smoking, more than any other behavior, leads to chronic disease and death. If doctors could only do ONE thing for the health of their patients who smoke, talking to them about quitting at EVERY visit would be at the top of the list. It has been well documented that repeatedly offering short, basic counseling, plus medication to ease withdrawal, increases the likelihood of a successful quit attempt.

And what is NOT enough – New York funds tobacco control programs (like ours) at exceedingly low levels. The surgeon general’s report stresses the continued success and importance of tobacco-control programs which help implement proven policies and techniques to prevent and to treat tobacco use. Furthermore, the latest (2014) CDC recommendation is that New York fund the state Bureau of Tobacco Control at a MINIMUM of $143 million per year. In 2013 New York state funded the BTC at $40 million. That is a mere fraction of the CDC recommendation and a barely noticeable dent in the $2 billion of revenue New York receives from tobacco every year.

After 50 years of education and policy change, it’s time we collectively put our foot down and make the next generation tobacco free. This is not solely a personal issue, nor is it solely up to health care professionals, or tobacco control programs, or government. It will take a commitment from EVERYONE to create a generation free of tobacco: a commitment from those who want to quit and the rest of us to help them in every way possible, a commitment to protect each other by keeping smoke out of public spaces, and a commitment to protect our children so that they will not feel the pull of tobacco marketing in their daily lives.

The surgeon general’s latest report can be found at

Glenn Pareira is program assistant for the North Country Tobacco Cessation Center based in Saranac Lake. Kendra Gertsch works for the Adirondack Tobacco Free Network, based in Plattsburgh.