Celebrating a Decade of Progress in Public Health

Public Health Advocates Salute Mayor Bloomberg, City Council on 10th Anniversary of Law That Protected Hospitality Workers' Rights, Improved New Yorkers' Health, Helped Drive Down Smoking Rates

(March 27, 2013)

Health activists today lauded Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the City Council, and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on the tenth anniversary of the New York City Smoke-Free Air Act, the groundbreaking law that built upon a continuing campaign that has protected city residents from the dangers of secondhand smoke and helped drive down smoking rates in the city to record lows.

The 2002 law – which went into effect on March 30, 2003 – made smoke-free virtually all establishments and businesses with employees, including all office buildings, restaurants and bars, theaters, health facilities, day care centers, shopping centers and retail stores, sports arenas, public transportation facilities and other public locations smoke-free.  It was followed by a series of laws extending smoke-free protections to hospital grounds and, last year, to parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas.

“The Smoke-Free Air Act was a monumental achievement that helped New Yorkers breathe easier and live longer,” said Sheelah Feinberg, Executive Director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City.  “New York City is recognized as a national leader in protecting public health, and New Yorkers have embraced cleaner air and sharply declining smoking rates.  In spite of those who predicted that protecting New Yorkers’ health would hurt the economy, we have seen significant increases in business and employment in our bars and restaurants and the tourism sector.  Also, when was the last time you heard someone complain about the lack of smoke-filled offices or restaurants?”

Richard Toes, 72, who spent decades working in smoke-filled establishments, echoed the views of many workers who lauded the law’s impact on his health.  “Working full-time for most of my life in restaurants and bars over a period of 30 years, I could not have continued to this point without the smoking ban,” said Toes, who now works at the Millenium Hilton Hotel. “My thanks to the Mayor, the Council, the NYC Coalition, and all the brave people who put their jobs on the line, in many cases.” 

The Coalition worked closely with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association of the Northeast, the American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to spread the public health message. Coupled with New York State’s highly effective and evidence-based Tobacco Control Program, the city campaign has helped drive down smoking rates in the New York City from 22 percent in 2002 to just 14 percent last year, a drop of 36 percent.  Among teenagers, the smoking rate dropped 61 percent, from 18 percent to 7 percent, over the same time period.

"When Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council enacted the Smoke-Free Air Act a decade ago, opponents predicted that the sky would fall. On the contrary, both public health and city night life flourished," said Michele Bonan, Regional Advocacy Director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.  "In the last ten years, millions have benefitted from clean indoor air in New York City, we reduced New Yorkers‘ cancer risk, and this remarkable legislation has served as a model for the country and the world."

“New York City has long been considered a pioneer in public health,” stated Dr. Johnny Lee, President of New York Heart Associates, P.C. and a member of the American Heart Association National Board of Directors.  “However, the passage of the city’s Smoke Free Air Act ten years ago defines courage through public service.  In the most contentious of circumstances, New York City prioritized cardiovascular health over the misguided concerns of the law’s opposition.  As a result of its passage, New Yorkers are living longer and healthier lives.  The American Heart Association looks forward to the next ten years of successful public health policy as New York City continues to lead the way.”

“As we celebrate 10 years of New York City's landmark Smoke-free Air Act, let's remember the countless lives we have saved, the lung disease we have prevented and the New Yorkers who have enjoyed longer, healthier lives because of it,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council have been great partners in promoting lung health and we look forward to continuing to work together to reduce the toll that tobacco takes on New Yorkers.

"For the past 10 years, New York City has led the nation and the world in fighting tobacco use, which is the number one cause of preventable death.  The 10th anniversary of the smoke-free law is an opportunity for New York to build on its progress and for others to follow the city’s powerful example," said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has pointed out that 450,000 New York City residents have quit smoking in the last decade, though the work to convince more smokers to quit remains as important as ever. Thousands of city residents still die each year as a result of smoking. On a statewide basis, 25,000 residents die each year – about 70 each and every day – as a result of smoking, and smoking is linked to health costs of more than $8 billion, and economic losses in terms of lost wages and productivity tops $6 billion.

To continue New York’s progress, especially in protecting young people from a future of tobacco-related addiction, disease and death, Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council have proposed to require cigarettes to be kept out of view in retail establishments. 

It’s all part of the continuing campaign to help current smokers quit and non-smokers never begin smoking---a public health threat that remains the greatest avoidable cause of early death in the city.

Employees who now enjoy smoke-free work environments offered some of the strongest support for the effects of the protections kicked off by the Smoke-Free Air Act.

 Kimberly Knox, a lifelong asthmatic, said she suffered the effects of working in nightclubs in a shift-long cloud of smoke at the time that the smoke-free provisions went into effect, and had been proud to proclaim New York City’s success in testimony before the Washington, DC council when that city was preparing to adopt a similar policy.

 “At the time, I was honored to lend my voice to the cause of the Smoke-Free Air Act, not only to honor the success of New York City’s law but to make sure that the issue was not clouded by misrepresentation elsewhere,” Knox said. “Every worker deserves the right to do their job in a smoke-free environment. Bars, restaurants and nightclubs are the workplace for so many New Yorkers, and it was transformatively important that our rights were protected.”

“I just worked many years for the hotel trade as a waitress and got sick from the secondhand smoke,” said Dylan Clay. “I now have asthma and see an occupational doctor at Mt. Sinai every month. It was really awful working in that smoke. I really thought I would die in there. I was a single mom and constantly sick. Life has been a dream not to have to work under those circumstances thanks to the smoke-free law.  A lot of people are healthier today because of it. Thank you, New York.”

The NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City is a health advocacy group that works in all five boroughs to increase awareness of tobacco control issues in New York City.  We believe every New Yorker has the right to breathe clean, smoke-free air where they live, work and play.  For more information, go to www.NYCSmokeFree.org.