Smoking’s impact on health ‘catastrophic’

ALBANY — More than 20,000 New Yorkers under the age of 18 become new smokers each year despite efforts by the state health department to encourage smoking cessation, and the agency is now introducing two new television public service announcements to sound the alert.

The state Health Department on Wednesday also released its latest figures of smoking rates by county for the period from July 2008- June 2009. Approximately 18.6 percent of Rensselaer County residents over the age of 18 were reported as smokers while in Albany County, the rate for that period was 16.5 percent.

A total of 17 percent of New Yorkers statewide smoke, with adult smoking rates of 14.5 in New York City and 18.5 percent for the rest of the state excluding the Big Apple. Statewide, Rockland County had the lowest percentage of smokers – just 9.7 percent of residents over the age of 18. The highest percentages of adult smokers were in Franklin, Orleans and Sullivan counties.

Health care professionals say smoking is one of the leading problems plaguing the health care industry, causing a wide range of health problems and driving insurance costs up. It’s also a behavior that can be incredibly difficult to convince patients to change. In a recent interview with The Record, Dr. James Reed, president and CEO of Troy-based Northeast Health, said that getting patients to quit smoking was one of the most challenging obstacles facing healthcare practitioners along with losing – and keeping off – extra weight.

State health officials unveiled two new advertisements on Wednesday at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, home of the New York state Smokers’ Quitline.

In one ad, a surgeon’s gloved hand squeezes out thick, fatty depositions from the aorta wall, the heart’s main artery, from a 32-year-old smoker. In another, a young child cries in a train station when he’s briefly separated from his mother - a reminder to viewers that smoking kills and can result in the loss of a child’s parent. Both ads end with information about the Smokers’ Quitline.

“Our ads must compete to get the attention of smokers, especially when you consider that in New York state alone, the tobacco industry spends approximately $430 million annually on advertising to encourage New Yorkers to smoke,” said state Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines. “The impact on the health of New Yorkers is catastrophic with more than 25,500 New Yorkers dying each year as a result of smoking, and nearly 21,000 children under age 18 in the state becoming new smokers each year.”

The two 30-second ads begin airing on television stations around the state on Aug. 3. The public awareness campaign is supported by a $1.8 million grant from the Prevention and Wellness Fund of the American Recovery and Investment Act. The ads have been pre-tested with New Yorkers who smoke, and nearly 70 percent of those shown the two ads said it grabbed their attention. Close to half of them said the ads made them consider kicking the habit.

The latest smoking figures – and the new PSAs – come on the heels of a new state law that tacks on an additional $1.60 in state taxes to every cigarette pack sold. The law, which went into effect on July 1, brings the total amount of state taxes on a pack of cigarettes to more than $4. The increase pushes the average price of a pack to about $9; in New York City, which imposes its own cigarette taxes, the average price will be even higher at nearly $11 a pack.

The taxes on smokeless tobacco will more than double starting on Aug. 1, rising from 96 cents an ounce to $2 an ounce. The wholesale tax on cigars, dips and other kinds of tobacco will increase from 46 percent to 75 percent. Additionally, the state will begin collecting – or at least try to collect – taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian reservations to off-reservation visitors. The taxes are expected to provide $440 million in revenue for health care programs, including subsidies for AIDS drugs, money for tobacco cessation programs and $71.6 for the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Since its founding in January 2000, the state’s Smokers’ Quitline has received more than 1.3 million calls. The free resource, which can be accessed at 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487), offers smoking cessation services including a free starter pack of nicotine patches or gum for eligible smokers, information about local stop smoking programs and other resources.

“Most people will try to quit smoking ‘cold turkey,’ which is the least successful approach. Quitting smoking is a monumental task but we see much higher success rates when smokers ask for help,” said Dr. Richard Rubin, chief medical officer for Troy-based Seton Health. “The Quitline is a tremendous resource for our patients, and when coupled with asking a healthcare provider for help with quitting, their chances of quitting successfully increase even more.”

Smoking Statistics

* 21,000: The approximate number of New Yorkers younger than 18 who start smoking each year
* 18.6: The percentage of Rensselaer County residents over the age of 18 who smoke
* 16.5: The percentage of Albany County residents over the age of 18 who smoke
* 17: The percentage of New Yorkers statewide who smoke
* $430 million: The amount the tobacco industry spends each year to advertise in New York State
* More than 25,000: The number of New Yorkers who die each year as a result of smoking
* $4: The amount of state tax charged per pack of cigarettes
* $9: The average price of a pack of cigarettes in New York State
* $11: The average price of a pack of cigarettes in New York City
* 1.3 million: The number of calls the New York State Smokers’ Quitline has received since its inception in 2000

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