And now for some good news. Extraordinary news, really. According to a survey conducted by the City Department of Health, only 14 percent of city residents are smokers. That’s below the national average of about 19 percent. But wait—there’s even better news. Only 7 percent of the city’s high school students are smokers. Seven percent!
Cigarettes are on their way to becoming artifacts of another time in New York history, and all of us are the beneficiaries. The costs of smoking—in health costs and lives lost—are astronomical. The end of smoking as we knew it means that we are living in a healthier, smarter city.
Much of the credit for these extraordinary numbers must go to Mayor Bloomberg, whose antismoking efforts have been unstinting and even—amazingly enough—controversial. Critics of the mayor’s ban on smoking in restaurants and bars warned of economic catastrophe. They insisted that the mayor was an agent of the so-called “nanny state.”
Mr. Bloomberg ignored the critics, and rightly so. His administration sponsored graphic, chilling television commercials showing the appalling effects of cigarette smoke—a woman whose circulation problems led to amputations, a man breathing through a hole in his neck. The ads should have been enough to persuade all but the addicted and the defiant to give up the butts.
The results of this in-your-face public health campaign are now clear. The cigarette culture is dying in New York. Sure, there are holdouts in some places, but even Staten Island, long a bastion of nicotine use, is giving up the habit.
All of the numbers are good, but the most heartening figure is the low number of children who smoke. A decade ago, some 18 percent of teenagers in the city smoked. The reduction to 7 percent no doubt has something to do with the cost of cigarettes—more than $11 a pack, thanks to heavy taxes—but the new bans on smoking and the city’s antismoking ads have clearly played a role too.
The romance and defiance associated with the cigarette belong to another era. Smoking kills. New York has gotten the message, thanks in part to City Hall’s aggressive campaign. Well done.