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Health Dept. Hopes Tax Increase Helps Smokers Quit

June 2, 2008
Robert Rizzuto and Nicholas L. Dean,
On Tuesday, smokers across New York will be feeling the pinch from the $1.25 increase in the state tobacco tax, as state Health Department officials anticipate an increase in the amount of people trying to quit.

‘‘There is a huge cause and effect with the cost of cigarettes, and the amount of people who smoke,’’ said Ursula Bower, state division of chronic disease prevention and adult health director. ‘‘Any price increase will drop the smoking rate.’’

She said that when Phillip Morris raised their prices 50 cents in the 1990s, it increased the amount of people who decided to quit.

‘‘For every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, it usually results in a 4 percent drop in consumption,’’ Ms. Bower said. ‘‘Since $1.25 is a 25 percent increase, we are anticipating a 10 percent drop in that rate.’’

She explained that consumption can decrease in two ways, by smokers either cutting down or quitting all together.

‘‘We are hoping that 1 million people will try and that 100,000 to 200,000 will be successful,’’ she said. ‘‘We know that half of the lifetime smokers will die of a smoking-related disease, on the average losing about 14 years of life.’’

At least two Jamestown residents interviewed Tuesday say they won’t quit smoking because of the tax increase.

Brittany and Jeremy Dahlgren both said they will find ways to save money so they can continue smoking.

‘‘No, it’s not going to stop me from smoking,’’ Brittany Dahlgren said. ‘‘They should start taxing porn or something instead. That’s what they’re going to do in California.’’

Dahlgren, meanwhile, said the hike will affect his budget, but not his habit.

‘‘I don’t think it will stop me from smoking,’’ he said. ‘‘There are things that would stop me from smoking, but not the price. It does cut down on all the other things you have to buy. It will affects budgeting.’’

Ms. Bower said that every year in New York, $8.2 billion is spent on medical care for smoking-related illnesses, but the tax only brings in $1 billion.

‘‘We want to bring those numbers down a lot,’’ she said.

But, as most smokers will say, they smoke because they are addicted. Scientific studies have shown that smoking is one of the hardest addictions to break, and Ms. Bower said help is available through the state.

‘‘The easiest way to get help is by calling the Quit Line,’’ Ms. Bower said. ‘‘They can get support from counselors and free nicotine medications.’’

She explained that nicotine in itself, isn’t harmful, but rather the method of delivery is what can kill.

‘‘Nicotine is what keeps people smoking, but it is the smoking that is detrimental to their health,’ she said. ‘‘We offer these nicotine products to help them get through the early withdrawals, which can be the hardest part.’’

The state offers a two-week supply of either nicotine gum or patches, according to Ms. Bower. After that, she said that quitting smokers can pick up the products from drug and department stores.

The Chautauqua County Steps to a Healthier New York program also offers support for those aiming to end their addiction.

On its Web site, a list of area service providers including the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association has been compiled, detailing contact information and services available through each group.

According to the Chautauqua Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data, the percentage of adult smokers in the county decreased from 29% in 2004 to 24% in 2005.

It also reported that total calls to the state Smokers’ Quitline from health care provider referrals quadrupled from 2005 to 2006, resulting in a 50% increase in calls compared with those in a neighboring county with similar demographics.

‘‘Raising the price of cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to get smokers to quit and to prevent youth from starting,’’ said Dr. Richard Daines, state health commissioner. ‘‘We expect an unprecedented number of New York smokers will try to quit smoking in anticipation of New York’s cigarette tax (increase) on June 3.’’

The New York Quitline can be reached at 1-866-NYQUITS or online at . Chautauqua County Steps to a Healthier NY can be reached at 716-484-3325 or online at .

Article Photos

Brittany and Jeremy Dahlgren of Jamestown gave their opinions about the increased tax on tobacco products.
P-J photo by Nicholas L. Dean

Fact Box

‘‘There are things that would stop me from smoking, but not the price.’’
• Jeremy Dahlgren



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