New Yorkers are now breathing more freely, thanks to the decrease in tobacco use among its population, but getting there has been a difficult, 10-year-long process. While the national adult smoker population lingers at 18%, New York stays below that mark, owed much in part to the state’s dedication to antismoking campaigns. While it’s still an ongoing battle, there’s much to be learned by New York’s effective quest to decrease tobacco use, especially in the multicultural space.
New York’s antismoking efforts have been overall an advertising “win.” This has been helped by enacted ordinances and laws that make smoking illegal in bars and restaurants, effectively making smoking an activity devalued for social status. The State of New York has supported those measures with advertising that emphasizes both the social stigma and its associated health and welfare concerns.
Since 2006, New York has run hard-hitting antismoking advertisements, including the “Nothing Will Ever Be the Same” campaign, featuring Bronx resident Ronaldo Martinez. Martinez, who suffered throat cancer as a result of smoking, is featured in ways that illuminate the decreased lifestyle he now experiences, from checkups every 12 weeks to see if his cancer has returned to using an assistive device to simulate his speech due to the hole in his throat. In that year alone, in part due to the Martinez ads, men showed a 11.6% decline in smoking, while Hispanics showed a 15.2% decline. Martinez was talking directly to those two groups, who saw their own actions leading to a potential negative future and decided to make a change.
“Ronaldo deserves a lot of credit for telling his story and motivating a lot of people to quit,” Thomas Frieden, former New York Health Commissioner and current director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the New York Daily News in 2007. “Just as the tobacco industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars, we are going to need to spend ongoing resources. Hard-hitting ads work.”
New York has gone on to further target the Latino population with subway ads in Spanish, reaching smokers in their own language. In 2010, 16% of Hispanic New Yorkers smoked, on par with Caucasian New Yorkers and below the national average.
Unfortunately, in recent years, trends have been fluctuating back and forth. While only 14% of New Yorkers smoked in 2010, 16.1% of adults smoked in 2013, the Daily News reported. For the first time since 2007, more than 1 million adult New Yorkers are smokers. Over the same timeframe, the city’s annual tobacco-control budget was cut almost in half, from $13.5 million to $7.1 million. Despite this, New York continues to push groundbreaking and effective antismoking campaigns, like the “Last Dance” spot, which features a man dying of cancer having a final dance with his wife while their child looks on. Although produced in English, like most New York antismoking advertisements, there are also versions in Spanish.
Most recently, the pendulum has swung back in the other direction, with smoking rates noted as low as 14.5% for adults and 7.3% among young people. “It's clear that New York State is becoming healthier than ever,” declared Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Increased federal funding of $10 million has helped achieve these goals. This money will be earmarked to a five-year tobacco-control plan that will include education, treatment, and advertising as part of its toolkit to bring down the smoking percentages even farther. While rates statewide are down, rates in New York City linger higher, with 15.2% of residents in Manhattan smoking and as high as 18% in boroughs like Staten Island, for an average of 16.1% of residents smoking across the metropolitan area.
If New York wants to avoid another backslide and see continued improvement in the health of its citizens, more focus has to be brought on effective, multicultural campaigns to educate the community on the dangers of tobacco use.