NYC smoking rates rise as budgets fall

WSN Editorial Board

For the first time in years, the number of New Yorkers who smoke has surpassed one million people. New data from the New York City Department of Health shows that 16.1 percent of adults identified themselves as smokers last year, which is a significant increase from the 14 percent in 2010. This is the highest number of smokers in New York since 2007. City officials blame anti-smoking campaign budget cuts for the rise. Given that the budget cuts for anti-smoking campaigns is a national trend, it is more important than ever for New York  to dedicate resources to tobacco control programs.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s budget for anti-smoking programs has been cut to $7.1 million, about half of its 2009 funds. In 2012, New York State spent only 16 percent of the $254 million recommended as an anti-smoking budget by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, New York State has the highest cigarette taxes in the nation, earning about $1.5 billion in 2012. Given this level of revenue, New York should be able to lead the nation in tackling the issue of high smoking rates.

At a time when cigarette smoking is on the rise, New York City’s budget must be adjusted accordingly to combat this trend. Anti-smoking legislation, such as advertisements and other programs that help people quell their addictions, must be given a higher priority in the city’s budget. Specifically, these anti-smoking campaigns must be aimed toward younger generations and infrequent smokers, as they are more likely to start smoking. New York City has implemented campaigns, such as offering free nicotine patches and advertisements that discourage smoking. However, Christine Curtis, an assistant health commissioner, notes  that the strategies have not been as aggressive as they were since before the budget cuts. Given the success of the city’s anti-smoking campaigns in the past, it seems logical that the city would continue to invest in tobacco control programs.

However, Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, said a program’s success makes it more likely for its funding to be cut. “We have this terrible, terrible habit: we celebrate gains and the resources get pulled away from us,” Benjamin said. It is easy for the city to allocate its budget to its most pressing issues at the cost of other programs. However, tobacco control programs, like many others, require a continued financial commitment in order to be effective. Without additional funding, there is little chance that smoking in New York will decrease at the rate it once did.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Sept. 17 print issue. Email the WSN Editorial board at [email protected]