Monday, June 4, 2012

High Cigarette Taxes Are a Start But Not the Whole Solution

High cigarette taxes are starting to have the impact that anti-smoking proponents have been hoping for. The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 15.8% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are daily smokers, down from 20.4% in 2004. The agency stated that substantial increases in cigarette taxes combined with increased education and enforcement efforts targeting younger smokers contributed to the decline. New York State has the highest state tax in the nation at $4.35. New York City tacks on an additional $1.50 tax making a pack of cigarettes almost $6 more than in other parts of the country. The high cost of cigarettes is a deterrent, but there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done to prevent our kids from becoming the next generation of smokers.

Among adults, the Bronx has one of the highest rates of smoking in NYC. Despite a 30% decline since 2002, southeast Bronx residents are nearly 40% more likely to be current smokers than NYC residents overall and other neighborhoods such as Fordham and Kingsbridge count almost a quarter of their residents as smokers. The danger smoking poses to Bronx youth is particularly worrisome. Research shows that 90% of all adult smokers begin before the age of 18. Although the Bronx has one of the lowest youth smoking rates in the city, 3,000 public high school students in the Bronx are regular smokers with data trends showing that 1/3 of these students will die prematurely because of the habit. These are 1,000 unnecessary and preventable deaths in a borough that already has too many of them.

Bronx Health REACH has been partnering with the Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership for the last few years on a number of campaigns to further lower youth smoking rates in the Bronx. One campaign explores the impact of tobacco marketing in stores on youth. Bodegas, pharmacies and other tobacco retailers are some of the last places in the United States where Big Tobacco can market its deadly products to our youth. The Partnership found that of the 11,500 tobacco retailers in NYC, 75% are located within 1000 feet of a school. A recent study suggests that the more tobacco products kids see, the more likely they are to smoke. The “point of sale” campaign aims to educate community leaders and local tobacco retailers about tobacco marketing and youth smoking and develop policies that promote healthier environments. With over two thirds of teens shopping in bodegas at least once per week, it is vital that we focus our efforts on this important issue. 

 On May 31st, Bronx Health REACH joined the Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership, the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City and youth from across the five boroughs in Washington Square Park for World No Tobacco Day to educate community leaders across the city about the importance of reducing youth exposure to tobacco marketing in stores. This event built upon the success of the “Take a Walk in Our Shoes” tobacco marketing tours held last October. In the Bronx, students from PS73 led Senator Gustavo Rivera and other community leaders on a walking tour of tobacco marketing inside and outside of the bodegas on Ogden Avenue in Highbridge to show them what they see on their walk to school (watch “Take a Walk in Our Shoes” here).

Going forward, Bronx Health REACH plans to work directly with bodegas, Merchant Associations, Business Improvement Districts, and Community Boards throughout the borough to gain a better understanding of the challenges store owners face around this issue and develop programs that benefit the health of our youth and businesses. Also, we hope to provide workshops for faith-based leaders, community-based organizations and other community leaders throughout the summer. We must continue to listen to and collaborate with these groups and individuals if we hope to create long-term, sustainable changes that better the health of Bronx communities.

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