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Univera study notes anti-smoking momentum

The good news about tobacco as the year comes to a close: smoking has steadily declined during the last decade and, that after a half-century public health effort that started with a Surgeon General’s report, the United States and many other nations have managed to cut smoking substantially.

The bad news: the damaging habit remains a reality in many families and communities. Rates tend to be higher among the poor and undereducated – and continue to be more troubling in Erie and Niagara counties than other parts of New York, according to a study this week released by Univera Healthcare.

“We’ve issued this report now with the hope that people who are considering a New Year’s resolution to quit smoking will find in it another strong incentive walk away from this life-shortening habit,” said Dr. Richard Vienne, Univera vice president and chief medical officer. “There are a variety of tools available to help smokers who have resolved to quit.”

The Affordable Care Act provides more access to resources to help smokers quit. Those resources tend to be free for those with private health insurance.

That’s important in this region, according to the report, because 22.7 percent of Western New York adults – more than one in five – smokes cigarettes. The percentage is the highest of any region in the state and compares with a statewide average of 16.2 percent and national average of 18.1 percent.

The report comes after state and federal leaders have imposed significant regulation on cigarettes, including public smoking bans and higher taxes.

“Despite all that,” Vienne said, “close to 24,000 New Yorkers die each year from diseases caused by smoking cigarettes, and an additional 3,000 lives are claimed by exposure to secondhand smoke.

Among other findings released in the report:

• More men than women smoke in the eight Western New York counties: 23.1 percent versus 20.8 percent.

• One of five adults – 21 percent – age 25 to 34 smokes.

• Adults in New York who haven’t earned a high school diploma or GED are more than three times as likely to smoke (24 percent) than college graduates (7.3 percent).

• Adults in New York with incomes below $15,000 are more than twice as likely to smoke (25.2 percent) than those with incomes of $50,000 or more (11.7 percent).

See related stories, Pages 8-9, 13