Smoking on the rise in New York City: Health Department

Christian Torre and Mina Bipat both of Queens smoke cigarettes in Manhattan on Monday Sept. 15, 2014.
Christian Torre and Mina Bipat both of Queens smoke cigarettes in Manhattan on Monday Sept. 15, 2014. Photo Credit: iStock

Despite years of efforts and restrictions against smoking, the city has seen a rise in people lighting up, the health department said yesterday.

For the first time since 2007, there are more than one million adult New York smokers, comprising about 16.1% of the population, according to the results of the 2013 community health survey.

Assistant health commissioner Christine Johnson Curtis said the increase is driven by a rise in people using cigarettes in smaller doses, thinking they can get around tighter price restrictions and erroneously believing they aren’t suffering ill effects.

“Any level of smoking can be dangerous for your health,” Curtis said.


The city has seen an increase in the number of smokers annually since 2010, when it bottomed out at 853,000. About 76% of the city’s smokers take in one to 10 cigarettes a day, which is up 8% since 2002, according to the survey, which collected data from 9,000 New Yorkers across the five boroughs.

Curtis said government budget cuts to anti-smoking programs also have contributed to the recent increase in smoking.

“If we returned funding to its levels five or six years ago, we can do a lot of education and media,” she said.

The health department launched a TV campaign Monday aimed at casual smokers.

The “Imagine for Life” commercials, which will run for a month, warn New Yorkers who only smoke once in a while that the short-term effects they feel, such as morning coughing, are major warning signs for tobacco-related diseases, such as emphysema and lung cancer.

“We are trying to get across the message there is no such thing as safe smoking,” Curtis said.

The health department’s annual survey found the majority of smokers are between 25 and 44 years old, and are low-income and lower-educated New Yorkers.

The survey didn’t ask participants if they use e-cigarettes and was issued before the city raised the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21 this year.

Smokers’ rights advocate Audrey Silkcalled the city’s newest ad campaign “intrusive” and questioned the health department”s data.

“Their figures, gathered through self-reporting, have always been questionable, and likely always higher than reported,” she said in a statement.

Michele Bonan, the New York City director of government for the American Cancer Society said the ads are a powerful educational tool and the dangers of “social” smoking are very real.

“They may not smoke heavily every day but there are still health risks posed. Those are the things that we need to dial up,” Bonan said.

With Sheila Feeney

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