Some legislators are fuming over a smoker-survey program that pays cigarette smokers for information on their habits and opinions and costs taxpayers $80,000 a year.
The $80,000 payout is one component of the state health department’s $500,000 yearly contract with RTI International, a North Carolina-based nonprofit research institute, to survey smokers in an effort to make its multimillion-dollar anti-smoking campaign more effective.
Thousands of smokers receive random letters in the mail from RTI International inviting them to take part brief telephone interviews, and participating could earn them $20, reports the Daily News.
Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) decried the annual payout to RTI International as “a waste of money,” given the state’s daunting $2 billion budget deficit.
Health Department spokesman Jeffrey Gordon said the pay-per-survey method was standard practice and necessary to ensure a representative sample of the smoking population.
Without that representative sample, Gordon said, smokers’ attitudes and behaviors couldn’t be properly be assessed, given the diversity of the group statewide, and New York’s $40 million anti-tobacco campaign would be less successful as a result.
Russ Sciandra, who works with the American Cancer Society, backed Gordon’s statement, saying that paying for participation yields more detailed results than the health department would receive for surveys that offered no such incentive.
“If you are going to try to do it for nothing, you are actually going to spend much more time and money making the calls,” Sciandra told the News.