Utica Observer Dispatch: New York steps up anti-smoking efforts


Posted Feb 14, 2011

 It’s been a tough year for smokers tired of being told to quit.

New York City banned smoking in its parks and on its beaches earlier this month.

The state ran a series of medically explicit (i.e., gross) television ads over the summer.

The state also hiked its tax on cigarettes by $1.60 a pack on July 1.

And now Oneida County is talking turkey, cold turkey that is.

The county health department has begun routinely referring all of its clients to the state’s Smokers’ Quitline.

“With the problems attributed to the use of tobacco products and those of secondhand smoke having been clearly established, we, as public health professionals, would be remiss if we failed to be aggressive in our efforts to help eliminate this public health threat,” said Dr. Gayle D. Jones, director of health for the county.

But New Yorkers need to be more aggressive, according to the American Lung Association. In a report, released last month, looking at state policies in 2010, New York received F’s in smoking cessation and in tobacco prevention control and spending. In other words, the state doesn’t do enough to help people quit or spend enough to discourage smoking, according to the lung association.

But the state received A’s for both smoke-free air and cigarette taxes. The smoke-free air is thanks to a state law banning smoking almost everywhere except in homes, cars, hotel rooms and the great outdoors.

Residents of Oneida County are more likely to light up than other Americans. Between 2005 and 2006, 25.1 percent of Oneida County adult residents smoked, compared to 20.6 percent across the country and 17 percent across the state, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

The new Oneida County policy applies to clients in health department programs, including Early Intervention; Women, Infants and Children (WIC); Lead Primary Prevention; Community Wellness and health clinics. Staff will provide clients with educational materials on tobacco cessation and contact information for the state’s Quitline.

The Quitline gives callers information on a variety of quitting-related topics, including medications, withdrawl symptoms and local cessation programs. It also provides free nicotine patches.

Anti-smoking campaigns have caused some friction, not all of it from smokers. For example, not everyone was happy when area hospitals banned smoking anywhere on their property a few years ago. Rome Memorial Hospital re-opened a designated outdoor smoking area after residents complained about staff and visitors smoking on sidewalks near their homes. (St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica also reinstated its smoking area for multiple reasons, officials said.)

But given the toll smoking takes on health – and how much the government and health plans spend treating smoking-related diseases – don’t expect the anti-smoking chorus to stop anytime soon.

Reach the New York State Smokers’ Quitline at: 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487)