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January 31, 2007

New York City’s Tobacco Control Success Story

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More than three years after New York City prohibited smoking in its bars and restaurants, city health officials say that the ban is partly responsible for improving city air quality and reducing smoking prevalence among residents. In addition, they report that food and drink establishments are doing more business and tourism is on the rise.

Mary Bassett, deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, presented the city’s tobacco control plan at a Jan. 29, 2007, talk at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “There are three things you should remember,” said Bassett. “Second hand smoke kills. We can save lives by passing smoke free legislation. [Smoking bans are] not going to hurt business. It’s that simple.”

New York City’s five-point tobacco control plan includes a cigarette tax increase of $1.42 per pack, legal provisions to enforce the smoking ban, the promotion of smoking cessation programs, a public education campaign and an evaluation plan to collect, analyze and disseminate data.

New York City’s effort to protect workers and the public by creating smoke-free environments focuses on compliance by business owners, not their customers. Health Department inspectors are responsible for enforcement and also respond to customer complaints.

Bassett said that the ban has had a long-term positive effect on New York City residents and the food and drink establishments. She pointed out that bar and restaurant receipts have increased over 8 percent, compared to pre-ban sales. In addition, New York City liquor license requests are up and restaurants are doing more hiring.

New York City continues to educate the public about the dangers of smoking through media campaigns. The health department also provides free smoking cessation patches to eligible smokers.

Dozens of states and over 2,000 localities have enacted smoke-free laws. Maryland legislators are in their fourth year of considering a state-wide ban. “The question isn’t whether Maryland will do the same, but when. But, how many lives will it take in the interim [before a law is passed]?” asked Bassett.

Jonathan Samet, MD, an international expert on the effects of smoking and director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Global Tobacco Control, said, “Really, who would have thought that New York City would be smoke-free? I hope to see the same in Baltimore soon. We’re not the first, but we definitely shouldn’t be the last.”

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.