New Yorkers Butt Out After Taxes, Restrictions, and Stark TV Ads

June 22, 2007

NEW YORK -- Credit for a 19% drop in smoking here goes to a multi-pronged campaign highlighted by TV ads starring patients with tobacco-related diseases, says the city health department.

NEW YORK, June 22 -- Credit for a 19% drop in smoking here goes to a multi-pronged campaign highlighted by TV ads starring patients with tobacco-related diseases, says the city's health department.

By 2006, only about 17.5% of the city's residents were smokers, down from 21.6% in 2002, according to Jennifer Ellis, Ph.D., and colleagues, of the health department.

In absolute terms, the number of smokers has fallen from 1.305 million to 1.065 million, a drop of 240,000, Dr. Ellis and colleagues reported in the June 22 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The 17.5% smoking rate in 2006 is significantly lower (at P?0.05) than the 2002 rate, Dr. Ellis and colleagues said, and represents about a 5% annual decline on average. It is also the lowest on record.

The latest decrease -- from 18.9% in 2005 -- comes after a widely broadcast series of TV ads, some of which featured a former smoker cleaning his permanent tracheostomy and using a machine to speak through the hole, saying "nothing will ever be the same."

"Hard-hitting ads work, especially when they're paired with a tobacco tax and smoke-free air legislation," said Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, M.D.

The decrease comes at the end of five years of increasingly strict anti-smoking efforts, beginning in 2002 when both the city and state increased tobacco taxes and followed in 2003 by legislation banning smoking in most public places, including workplaces.

From 2002 through 2004, the smoking rate declined significantly (P

The findings came from an annual survey, conducted by telephone, of New York residents, the researchers said.

The CDC, in an accompanying editorial note, cautioned that the survey data collected by Dr. Ellis and colleagues can't prove a causal relation between the ad campaign and the renewed decline in smoking.

But the agency said the data suggest that graphic TV ads -- linked with tax increases and laws to increase smoke-free areas -- "might further reduce smoking prevalence."

The agency cautioned that the study has several limitations, including a reliance on self-reported smoking behavior. Also, such telephone surveys systematically exclude some people, such as those in institutions or without landline telephones.