Albany is well known for its overblown promises and rhetorical hype. Often newly passed laws are promoted as “historic” and criticisms of health reforms paint a picture of the end of civilization as we know it.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of New York State’s Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits smoking in all indoor workplaces, including restaurants and bars. While smoking cessation advocates are celebrating the anniversary, they also say there is more to be done to protect public health.
Higher prices have been shown to encourage smokers to quit or reduce their consumption of cigarettes. Cigarette tax evasion makes cigarettes cheaper and reduces the public health benefits of New York’s excise tax, as well as depriving the state of much-needed revenue. Were the tax collected on all cigarettes smoked in New York, tens of thousands of adults would quit rather than pay higher prices, and state revenues would dramatically increase.
Tobacco companies are an extreme example of how greed trumps morality in America’s marketplace. Every year roughly 500,000 smokers die from tobacco use and the industry knows it must at least replace those lost customers – plus the ones who successfully quit the addiction.
New York State – and much of the nation – has made tremendous strides in reducing smoking rates. In the mid-1960s, nearly half of Americans smoked; today it’s roughly half that nationwide and lower still in New York.
The successes have come as the result of scientific findings that have linked smoking to lung cancer and other health problems. Those scientific breakthroughs also identified the health risks faced by nonsmokers who were exposed to second hand smoke from tobacco products.
Tobacco kills more than 400,000 Americans every year and costs the country about $100 billion in health care bills. Despite successes in curbing tobacco use over the past four decades, it still is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
New York State’s efforts to reduce smoking have had a tremendous impact. Between 2003 and 2010, the adult smoking rate in New York fell by 28 percent. During that time, the nation’s smoking rate slipped only 11 percent. New York high school students’ smoking rate dropped an incredible 38 percent, more than twice the nation’s decline.
A federal appeals court ruled last week that tobacco companies are not required to comply with the implementation of new graphic warning labels on cigarette packs, arguing that the law violated corporate free speech rights. These warnings are required by the federal government and are supposed to go into effect next month.