Not too many years ago, New York was a global leader in the battle against smoking.
It banned cigarettes in bars and on beaches. It outlawed the sale of tobacco to people younger than 21. And through a taxation tsunami, it ran up the retail price of a pack to $13 or higher.
Yet the city's health department announced this week that the proportion of New York adults who smoke is now creeping perilously upward again -- from 14 percent in 2010 to 16.1 percent in 2013.
That's terrible news. But does it mean that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's signature anti-smoking push now lies in smoldering ruins?
That's what a think tank known as the National Center for Public Policy Research believes. A senior fellow there says the trend shows the Bloomberg "nanny state" was "ineffective." He advises public health officials to "put your hands back in your pockets" and "stop asking for more money and more tax increases."
Allow us to clear the air. That's total nonsense.
Despite the troubling uptick between 2010 and 2013, City Hall's anti-smoking campaign has made a discernible positive difference. The Bloomberg effort began in 2002. At that time 21.5 percent of the city's adults smoked. Today it's 16.1 percent -- a figure that beats the national rate, which was 18.1 percent at last count in 2012.
Here's what the city needs to do:
Keep the ad campaign strong.A reduction in funding a few years ago crimped the media drive, say public health officials. The good news is that the city this week launched a campaign to persuade light daily smokers and non-daily smokers to kick the habit. They account for 76 percent of today's smoking public.
Keep up the pressure on sales of untaxed smokes. This is more than a quality-of-life offense. Roughly 46 percent of all inspected cigarette dealers were selling untaxed or unstamped tobacco products, the city said last year. Light smoking kills and so does secondhand smoke -- while they simultaneously drive up public health costs.
This is a life-or-death battle that must continue.