Smokers light up south Bronx

With one of the highest smoking rates in the city, south Bronx smokers are choking – on their budgets as well as their health.

A new study reports they and other low- income smokers across the city spend a whopping 25% of their income on cigarettes.

In the south Bronx, one in five adults smoke, with 35% of them more likely to be current smokers than NYC residents overall (19% vs. 14%).

Not only does the south Bronx have one of the highest smoking rates in the city, but it also has one of the highest rates of children with asthma, according to the study by the Public Health & Policy Research program of Response To Intervention, a nonprofit institute.

Interestingly enough, smokers’ rights advocates are arguing the study proves high taxes on cigarettes are both regressive and ineffective.

But Sheelah Feinberg, executive director of NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, said she could not disagree more.

“High cigarettes taxes are not ineffective; they save lives,” said Feinberg. “New York State’s high cigarette tax (the highest in the country) is only one element of a comprehensive strategy that has reduced smoking rates well below the national rate.”

The dramatic decline in smoking rates in both the city and state, she argued, proves the higher cigarette tax is working.

From 2003 to 2010, New York State reduced adult smoking by 28%, from 21.6% of adults who smoked to 15.5% who now smoke.

By contrast, the national smoking rate declined by only 11% during that period, from 21.6% to 19.3%. In NYC, the adult smoking rate has dropped from 22% in 2002 to 14% in 2011.

“Higher taxes don’t in fact burden low-income households; smoking does,” Feinberg argued. “The poor smoke more, suffer more, spend more and die more from tobacco use.

“In NYC, there are still 850,000 people who smoke, many from low-economic communities,” she continued. “This isn’t by accident. Big Tobacco’s marketing heavily targets low-income and minority communities. Our city’s most vulnerable pay with their lives, yet they have more limited access to health care, including smoking cessation services and tobacco prevention programs.”

David Lehmann, borough manager of Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership, said he has been working with the partnership for 25 years to decrease smoking in the Bronx.

“We have proven what works and NYC has proven more than any other major city in the country what works,” he said.

He argued that because the state gets money from cigarette taxes, “they need to put more money back into things that will help people quit, like cessation programs and more hard hitting advertising.”

Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership works closely with neighborhood and community groups, legislators and local health advocates on various tobacco-control initiatives. They most recently led a Smoke-Free Housing Technical Assistance Session for housing organizations and property owners on innovative and cost- effective ways to go smoke-free.

On Friday, October 12, the Partnership will join community partners to host the 4th annual educational forum at Hostos Community College, with Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz, Jr. the keynote speaker.

The Coalition has joined the American Lung Association of the Northeast, Bronx Health REACH, the Children’s Hospital of Montefiore and other health advocates, to work on a new initiative to reduce tobacco use and eliminate secondhand exposure in multi-unit housing in the south Bronx.

“We need to implement policies,” said Feinberg, “to reduce the tobacco industry’s ability to target low-income populations.”

Kirsten Sanchez can be reach via e-mail at or by phone at (718) 742-3394

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