2013-04-04 / Telling It Like It Is

Telling It Like It Is

Can Bloomberg Really Smoke Out A Hard To Kick Habit?
By Dara Mormile

Drum roll please... Congratulations to Mayor Bloomberg for his Smoke Free NYC initiative's 10th year anniversary – celebrating a decade of fast-foodies, bar-hoppers and club-goers not being able to light up a cigarette inside any establishment.

I remember when the smoking ban went into effect 10 years ago. First, many were apprehensive that it would hurt businesses – after all, what fun is going to a restaurant and not being able to spend an extra 15 minutes at your table having a post-meal puff? Being able to take a few drags at your local pub was part of the “scene.” Some business owners feared patrons wouldn't stay as long – or go to their establishment at all – knowing they couldn't enjoy their nasty habit.

On the flip side, people like myself who don't smoke were thankful for this new ban, as it would result in cleaner air and you wouldn't come home from a bar smelling like an ashtray. I didn’t support the ban 10 years ago only because I didn’t feel that smokers should be ostracized just because of their disgusting lifestyle. Yeah, cigarette smoke smells awful and discolors things as it infiltrates your hair and clothes, but I don’t have to be around it 24 hours a day. However, I don't think Bloomy's statement, made at a bar last week, holds too much statistical truth. Media outlets quoted him as saying, “Ten years later, fewer New Yorkers are smoking, we are living longer, our industries are thriving and nobody longs for a return to smoke-filled bars and restaurants."

I also don't think the Smoke Free NYC initiative has necessarily stopped people from puffing on those cancer sticks. While statistics note that smoking related deaths have declined, our city – in general – is being forced, not encouraged, to try to give up the awful habit.

Raising the price of cigarettes obviously diverts smokers who might be on a budget and they might have to rethink how to finance their habit. They might smoke less often to conserve cigarettes, but quitting completely? From the few people I know who smoke, the numerous bans and other anti-cigarette campaigns haven't really deterred them from the vice they've enjoyed since a young age. Deciding to quit on your own and being threatened by your doctor that your life is in jeopardy are two very different reasons to stop smoking.

How do you like the Health Department's anti-smoking ads with 'victims' showing off their Laryngectomy (the surgical procedure in which a doctor cuts a hole in the throat to remove cancerous tissue)? Or the ads showing a woman's finger stumps as a result of multiple amputations. Surely you'll put down that smoke when you hear the commercial featuring that middle-aged man practically hacking up his lungs at his kitchen table. How do we know if all of these efforts actually worked or if everyone had their own personal reason for choosing or having to quit?

I hope the statistics and reports are true – that all these campaigns and bans have influenced and forced people to quit.

But, if fewer people are smoking and Hizzonor is content with the ban's success, then why did he try to implement a system where shop owners would have to hide their smokes from clear view behind a store counter? If you're a smoker who can't beat the addiction and you need that daily or weekly pack – you're going to go to the store for those cigarettes – regardless of whether they're under the counter, in the stock room or on the roof!

Ten years later, Daddy Bloomberg still doesn't seem happy with our progress. The ban hasn’t deterred people from smoking outside restaurants and bars – it will simply deter them from lighting up for an hour or so while they're in that environment. One of my friends leaves whatever restaurant we're dining in for a good 10 minutes so she can have a post-meal puff. Some people can wait until they leave a bar, club or restaurant to have their smoke – but for many who have been smoking for decades, it's not a reason to quit completely.

My father, God rest his soul, smoked until the day that he died, even though he had cancer. When he was in decent health, we would go out to eat and he couldn't wait to go outside and light up. Just because he was diverted from smoking while we were at dinner, he wasn't encouraged to quit.

Plenty of people can be seen outside of a diner or club lighting up – so, in the end, what has the ban accomplished? These days, there are plenty of people dying in their 50s and 60s – whether it's from smoking or not.

I agree, there may be fewer people smoking than there was over 20 or 30 years ago, but that seems to be a matter of personal choice and physician's threats that one's health is in jeopardy. And let's get real! We know more about the dangers of smoking now than we did in the past – it's not a glamorous habit that we want to emulate from the 1940s, with Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart looking like they could never die from emphysema.

If you're a smoker and you're thinking of quitting – who are you going to thank? Baby Bloomy or your pure disgust with how cigarettes have ruined your health and your life? Either way, to me the 10-year celebration can go up in smoke.

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