Counties' tobacco-prevention grades improve
COMMITMENTS to tobacco-prevention programs by lawmakers in Ulster, Greene and Columbia counties have earned them passing grades in the American Lung Association's second annual tobacco settlement report cards.
Each of the three counties received failing grades a year ago.
Dutchess County, meanwhile, retained the B grade it received last year, spending $500,000 of the $3.85 million it received from the settlement in 2001 on control and prevention. Dutchess County spent $1.78 per person on tobacco control, according to the Lung Association's report.
In Ulster County, which went from a failing grade to a C, officials spent $100,000 on tobacco control and prevention programs out of $2.51 million received this year in settlement payments.
"We started out with $50,000, spent $100,000 this year, and next year I've put in for $150,000," said Ward Todd, R-Shandaken, chairman of the Ulster County Legislature. "We'll do an assessment early next year of all the programs currently being offered by the state, the Tobacco Free Action Coalition and other groups, and try to come up with a program of our own that doesn't replicate the others."
According to the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the minimum amount a local government should invest in anti-tobacco programs is $4 per capita, the report said. Only one county, Suffolk, achieved that level. Ulster County's spending came to about 56 cents per capita.
Columbia County received a D, spending $13,500 of the $970,200 in settlement funds this year on tobacco control, or 21 cents per capita, the report said. Lawmakers in Greene also got a D for allocating 21 cents per capita for tobacco control, using $10,000 of the $654,500 it received for anti-smoking efforts.
The American Lung Association grades counties on the basis of per-capita spending on tobacco-control programs. Last year, 43 of New York's 62 counties received failing grades. This year, non-passing marks were given to 31 counties.
Half of New York's counties are not spending any of their money from tobacco companies on anti-smoking programs, Lung Association officials said. Instead, cash-strapped counties have been using their windfall from the 1998 settlement of a multistate lawsuit against the tobacco industry to fill gaps in local budgets.
"A lot of counties are using it for other uses, building jails, road-improvement projects, dump trucks, even golf course irrigation programs," said Tim Nichols, director of government affairs for the Lung Association.
"This year, instead of potholes, they're fixing budget holes," said David Martin, executive director of the American Lung Association of the Hudson Valley, which includes Ulster and Greene counties.
New York state and its counties will split roughly $25 billion from tobacco makers over 25 years. Although the state and counties are not legally obligated to spend any of the money on smoking prevention, anti-smoking groups say governments have a moral obligation to do so.
"They are at least moving in the right direction," said Nancy DeKorp, director of program services for the northeastern branch of the Lung Association, which includes Dutchess and Columbia counties.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.