As 2013 draws to a close, I reflect on the progress we’ve made over the past year to raise awareness around tobacco control in New York City and the country. By partnering with community members and health advocates, and then educating policy makers, we’ve supported efforts that we believe will effect long-term, positive change and protect public health.
Here’s our Top Ten list for 2013:
1. Three new smoke-free laws
New York City became the first major city in the country to raise the legal sale age for tobacco products to 21. Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council also passed legislation to stop tobacco industry discount schemes; and prohibit the smoking of electronic cigarettes in indoor public places and workplaces, including bars and restaurants. These bold and groundbreaking smoke-free laws should help reduce youth smoking rates in our City and serve as models for the rest of the United States and the world.
2. More smoke-free housing options for all New Yorkers
Our Borough Smoke-Free Partnerships have increased the number of smoke-free apartment buildings, condos and co-ops across the City. We know that most New Yorkers would like to live in smoke-free housing. As a sign of the times, Related Companies has decided that all 40,000 rental units they own or manage will be smoke-free; and Manhattan’s Zeckendorf Towers became the largest condominium (647 units) in New York City, and possibly the nation, to go smoke-free.
3. Our new video: “Through Our Eyes: NYC Kids on Tobacco Marketing”
We talked with New York City youth about tobacco marketing. With the generous support of the Fanny and Svante Knistrom Foundation, we produced a video to help health advocates and legislators understand what’s at stake when we talk about what kids see at the “point of sale.”
On the national tobacco holiday, we released a video message from New York state and local elected officials and kids from all five boroughs urging New York youth to stay healthy and kick butts. The video went viral and remains one of our most popular videos to date.
5. Ten years of smoke-free air
We commemorated the tenth anniversary of the NYC Smoke-Free Air Act, a landmark piece of legislation that has helped New Yorkers breathe easier and live longer. Thanks to this groundbreaking law, New Yorkers are able to breathe clean, smoke-free air in the workplace, regardless of whether they work in a high-rise office or neighborhood restaurant or bar. Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined us for our celebration at the Museum for the City of New York.
6. Shared resources on smoke-free housing
At the annual conference of the American Public Health Association, we shared with colleagues from across the country the strategies and tools we use to engage with apartment residents, tenants’ advocacy groups and non-profit housing providers around smoke-free housing.
This past spring, the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), working with the Coalition, piloted a public health mentorship program with college and high school students in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx to determine Big Tobacco’s presence in these communities. Research has shown that 79% of New York City tobacco retailers are within a few blocks of a school. Students in the mentorship program conducted a community mapping survey to assess how this startling fact pertains to their own schools. Their findings are detailed in a NYPIRG report recently released titled Overexposed.
Through social media, our Flat Phil project engaged youth and raised awareness about the effects of smoking and tobacco marketing on our communities.
9. Help for those most at risk
Some New Yorkers including Asian Americans and people who identify as LGBT smoke at disproportionally higher rates than the general population. To address this health disparity, we’ve partnered with the LGBT and Asian American communities and health organizations to form the NYC LGBT Smoke-Free and Asian American Initiatives. These goal of these Initiatives is to raise awareness among these communities and decision makers in New York to support tobacco-free living for Asian Americans and the LGBT community in our city.
10. A national voice on tobacco control
In our Huffington Post blog, we frequently weigh in on local and national tobacco control issues. Our voice is also heard by federal agencies. When the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requested information, we fully supported the increase of smoke-free policies in public housing authorities and multi-family housing. We also strongly supported the FDA prohibiting menthol as an added flavor or additive in cigarettes and other tobacco products based on overwhelming scientific evidence and research.
With the support and collaboration of our partners, we’ve accomplished so much, but more work needs to be done.
While the smoking rate in NYC is lower than the national rate for adults and youth, the current rate of 15.5 percent has essentially remained the same since 2010. The decline in our youth smoking rate has plateaued since 2007.
We are at a critical juncture. Progress has stalled, and Big Tobacco continues to target our youth and our city’s most vulnerable populations.
Now more than ever, as we welcome the new mayoral administration and the New Year, we cannot rest on our laurels.
New York State generates over $2 billion in tobacco revenues, but uses only a tiny fraction of this revenue to help smokers quit and keep kids from starting—about 16 percent of the yearly funding recommended for New York by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With adequate funding, New York could address the disparities and improve the health for all New Yorkers. We could also reduce the $8.17 billion in health care costs New Yorkers spend as a result of tobacco use.
Saving lives and money. Sounds like a good New Year’s resolution to me.