In the last 50 years, we’ve made tremendous progress in reducing the burden of tobacco. Here are some milestones from the last 50 years in tobacco control:
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.
Last week, I was honored to be on a panel with NYC’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, at a day-long discussion sponsored by the New York Academy of Medicine and the NYU Global Institute of Public Health entitled, “Maintaining a Public Health Agenda During Political Change”. Joining me on the panel were Veronica White, Commissioner for NYC Department of Parks and Recreation; and the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene’s Associate Commissioner for External Affairs, Sam Miller, and Deputy Commissioner for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Susan Kansagra.
Summer is here and New York families are flocking to our city’s parks and beaches.
Smoke-free parks and beaches in New York are now the norm. The old norm was smoke-free bars and restaurants. And before that, the old norm was smoke-filled airplanes. Can you imagine that? While Big Tobacco and its supporters warned at every step that Bloomberg was creating a so-called “nanny state” when he first introduced smoke-free bars and restaurants, our mayor’s regulations have become self-enforcing social norms, and it is hard to remember now that they were controversial when first proposed. And social norms in many other cities, states and countries have followed suit.
Population-based policyeffects social change, which then becomes the norm.
Before any tobacco control legislation is passed, education and advocacy are necessary. Why, you ask? The math is simple. Big Tobacco spends millions opposing good common sense public health policy or price increases, and fighting legislation in the courts. Most recently, Proposition 29, which would increase a pack of cigarettes in California by a $1.00 in California, was ultimately defeated by a very narrow margin because voters were bombarded by the tobacco industry’s relentless ads that misrepresented the proposed tax. Big Tobacco spent almost $50 million to defeat Proposition 29, and it worked. Our work in the community educates voters so they are not so easily swayed by Big Tobacco’s unhealthy agenda and propaganda.
Now that the New York State Legislative’s 2012 session is over, we applaud the efforts of our champions at the state house. In particular, I want to applaud State Senator Gustavo Rivera (D, WF-Bronx) and Assembly Member Jeff Donowitz (D-Bronx) who passed a bill in both the at the State State Senate and State Assembly that would limit NYC children’s exposure to secondhand smoke by extending prohibiting smoking within 100 feet of school entrances and exits. Our youth have the right to breathe clean air where they learn.
As we wait for the final vote count on Proposition 29, a measure that would add a $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes in California, we know that price increases are a proven way to bring down smoking rates. In fact, it is such an effective strategy, that even New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong are supporting the initiative. Not surprisingly, Big Tobacco has spent almost $48 million in California to “interfere” with the $1 tax measure. We hope they do not win, but if they do, we will continue our fight to protect youth from smoking.