Counties faulted on use of tobacco cash
The regional chapter of the American Lung Association has given Washington County a failing grade on a "report card" assessing how counties are using money from the settlement of a multistate tobacco lawsuit.
But Warren and Saratoga counties, which had been given failing grades on a similar report card last year, received passing grades this year.
The low grade for Washington County was based on the fact that the county did not spend any of its tobacco settlement money this year on anti-smoking programs and did not respond to requests for information, American Lung Association officials said.
The settlement money is intended to provide state and county governments with money to set up programs to help people quit smoking and stop others from starting.
States won billions of dollars through tobacco lawsuits filed in the 1990s. Under a settlement reached in 1998, the major tobacco companies agreed to pay 46 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia $206 billion over 25 years to cover the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses. New York received $25 billion.
"This report card format easily lets the public know if the counties are doing their job," said Nancy DeKorp, director of program services for the American Lung Association of Northeastern New York.
The grades were determined by how much money the counties spent on tobacco control, based on per-capita figures from the 2000 census. The lung association says the minimum amount a local government should spend on tobacco control programs is $4 per capita.
Washington County Board of Supervisors Chairman Donald Cummings said his county probably received an "F" grade because it did not report back to the association.
But he acknowledged that the county's share of the money didn't go for anti-smoking or health-related efforts. Instead, supervisors chose to use it to help pay for construction of a new county jail.
"The state has earmarked hundreds of thousands of dollars to educate people about smoking, and there would be some redundancy if we did the same thing," Cummings said.
"We felt the best use of the money to help taxpayers would be to apply it to paying for the jail."
Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman William Thomas said he was pleased his county improved its grade to a C.
"Overall, Warren County was aware of needs of controlling tobacco consumption in our county and has shown a commitment to address the education end of it," Thomas said.
"I'm pleased with a C grade. It's not an A or B, but it's better than what we had previously."
Saratoga County also improved from an F grade last year to a C grade.
Hamilton and Essex counties received failing grades both years.