The good news about tobacco as the year comes to a close: smoking has steadily declined during the last decade and, 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 released last week 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.
Find ways to quit by calling the New York Smokers' Quitline at (866) NY-QUITS 697-8487 or going online to nysmokefree.com. Other tips are covered in last Saturday's WNY Refresh cover story package, which can be read here.
Quitting is 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.
The complete report can be found here. Among its findings:
- 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).
Tar Wars, a national tobacco-free education program, is among programs looking to prevent children from starting the addictive habit in the first place.
Tar Wars promotes living a tobacco-free life and provides fourth- and fifth-graders with the tools and knowledge to make better choices about their health. It will touch more than 30 schools this year in Western New York, many of them in the Buffalo Public Schools.
Students and staff in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences lead the effort. Anyone motivated to promote a tobacco-free lifestyle can participate in Tar Wars. Family medicine residents, medical students, school nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, other health care providers and students, dental hygienists, health education professionals, community leaders and even parents can volunteer.
“We welcome participation and are happy to train them to present the program,” said Denise McGuigan, principal education specialist in the UB Department of Family Medicine. For more information, email McGuigan at firstname.lastname@example.org.