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Tobacco Loves NY

Last year, when a New York state legislator proposed a "pre-emption" bill to repeal a host of tough local tobacco control measures, anti-tobacco activists expected Health Commissioner Dr. Barbara DeBuono to lead the charge against the legislation.

But DeBuono's office remained oddly quiet. "[Tobacco] doesn't even seem to be on the radar screen as a public health issue," says Michael Perrin, director of government affairs at the American Lung Association of New York. What he and the rest of the anti-smoking community didn't know was that Republican Gov. George Pataki had suppressed DeBuono's efforts.

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According to Russell Sciandra, former director of the health department's Tobacco Control Program, DeBuono had intended to issue a statement denouncing the measure for gutting existing laws, such as New York City's restaurant smoking ban and the state's restrictions on free cigarette samples. Her office drafted two press releases, obtained by Mother Jones, but Pataki's office refused to approve them.

In the first, dated June 19, 1995, DeBuono said the pre-emption bill "threatens the progress New York has made... With 30,000 New Yorkers dying each year from smoking-related illnesses, this bill is the wrong way to go."

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