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By Mark Grisanti

A lot can change in 50 years. Five decades ago, the Ford Mustang had just been introduced, the Beatles had their first number one hit in the United States and everyone was doing the Twist.

On Jan. 11, 1964, another milestone was reached, this one in the area of public health. The U.S. surgeon general published a report that, for the first time, established a scientific link between smoking and life-threatening diseases such as cancer, helping the public see through the tobacco industry’s lies and laying the groundwork for the next 50 years of efforts to reduce the burden of tobacco on this country.

Since then, we have made great strides in the fight against tobacco. At that time, the U.S. smoking rate was 42 percent. Today, it’s less than half that at about 19 percent. We’ve made progress against tobacco, but this work is not finished. There are still 43 million smokers in this country and more than 3,000 kids try their first cigarette each day.

New York’s primary mechanisms for tobacco prevention and cessation are woefully underfunded. The New York State Tobacco Control Program, which works to keep kids from using tobacco and help smokers quit, has lost 50 percent of its funding over the past few years despite the state collecting $2 billion annually in tobacco revenues.

These cuts mean fewer ads, less cessation therapy and a reduction in critical programming and outreach to keep kids from starting to smoke. Roswell Park Cancer Institute administers the state’s Quitline, which provides free nicotine replacement therapies to smokers who are trying to quit. Roswell Park and the Quitline have been directly impacted by funding reductions, reporting a 40 percent drop in calls to the Quitline and other program cuts.

The Tobacco Control Program has proven effective in reducing the number of smokers and the number of children taking up this deadly addiction.

An independent review said the program’s single biggest weakness is dwindling state support and recommended that New York spend $127.5 million a year, nearly four times what is currently spent on the program.

I have introduced legislation that would allocate a small percentage of tobacco tax revenues incrementally over a 10-year period to the Tobacco Control Program and bring funding levels in line with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control by 2025.

Such funding would pay for itself in the short term by reducing smoking-related health care costs and provide a return on investment long term that is 10-fold.

This anniversary must be a call to action – it’s time to finish the job we started in 1964 to reduce the burden of tobacco on our nation. We must work to reduce the burden of tobacco in New York. We can’t afford to wait another 50 years.

Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, represents the 60th State Senate District.