By Jessica Reynolds Staff writer
The Daily Star
---- — By the end of June, Rural 3 for Tobacco Free Communities or Reality Check will go up in smoke, organizers said Wednesday.
The future of the two anti-tobacco programs is uncertain after a recent announcement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo created an unwanted competition between the two programs, said Aletha Sprague, program director for Rural 3, a Bassett Hospital program. Sprague said the announcement was that the New York state Department of Health’s Bureau of Tobacco Control will award a $325,000 grant to one, and only one, anti-smoking program that serves Delaware, Otsego and Chenango counties.
There are only two such programs, Sprague said: Rural 3 and the youth-led tobacco-control program Reality Check. The grant has created an uncomfortable rivalry between the two programs, she said, because they will be competing against each other for the funding.
Sprague said after one of the organizations is chosen to receive the grant, the winner will absorb the other’s duties, eliminating the other program. The remaining program will combine elements of both Reality Check and Rural 3, which the state is now calling “Community Engagement,” according to Sprague.
Alison Bruce, program director at Reality Check, said she also feels the consolidation is unfortunate because both programs offer unique content, with Rural 3 focusing more on tobacco-control among adults and Reality Check working with youth. If Reality Check loses out, Bruce said, she could lose her job.
“In the past, we have worked together with Rural 3 toward the goal of creating tobacco-free communities,” Bruce said. “But this will force us to compete.”
Sprague agreed, saying the consolidation of the programs is pitting the organizations against one another. Even so, the funding is a welcome resource, she said, and will be double the amount of Rural 3’s current grant.
“Because of the state budget, our programs have lost some funding in the last few years,” Sprague said. “But the money is there. $2 billion is generated from tobacco taxes.”
According to the press release, more than $9 million will be awarded to New York groups that promote tobacco-free communities. The DOH’s Bureau of Tobacco Control is providing the grants to reduce morbidity, mortality and the social and economic burden caused by tobacco use. Estimated annual funding ranges from $500,000 to $325,000, depending on the population of the community that will benefit from the grant.
Sprague said the funding will be go toward creating local smoke-free properties, making pharmacies and other retail environments tobacco-free, and discouraging stores from selling tobacco to young people, an initiative the New York Association of Convenience Stores recently commended New York’s retail stores for.
According to a recent media release from the NYACS, neighborhood retail stores in New York have achieved a record-high level of underage tobacco sales prevention. A recent report by the DOH showed that 95 percent of stores refused to sell tobacco to undercover minors, the release said. This is an outstanding rate of compliance for underage tobacco sales prevention, the release said, and shows the results of the state’s Adolescent Tobacco Use Prevention Act, which requires retail owners to verify the tobacco purchaser’s age.
Sprague said she would like to see the funding go toward creating local smoke-free apartment buildings. She hopes a law will be passed, she said, that would require landlords to disclose whether smoking is allowed in their building.
The deadline for organizations to apply for the grant funding is Feb. 25. Sprague said it is an in-depth application process.
“You have to describe all kinds of information about your organization, your program plan, how you will recruit youth and keep them involved, the program budget and staffing information,” Sprague said.
The current grant cycle ends in June, Sprague said, so Reality Check and Rural 3 should know which program will receive the grant by the end of that month.
No matter which program the grant is given to, Bruce and Sprague said, there is still much to be done for tobacco-control programs. Either way, a main goal of the program will continue to be the reduction of smoking rates, especially among youth.
“We will remain dedicated to our goal,” said Bruce.