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How far for smoking prevention?

How far for smoking prevention?

Law of diminishing returns may have been reached

New York may not spend as much money on smoking prevention every year as federal health officials and anti-tobacco groups think it should, but the current $40 million a year is not exactly peanuts. And even though the amount has fallen in recent years to less than half its peak just six years ago, it — along with other measures aimed at getting New Yorkers to quit — has been paying off.

Indeed New Yorkers have been quitting over the last decade at a much faster rate than smokers in other states. Where the national smoking rate is still greater than 19 percent, only 15.5 percent of New Yorkers now smoke. That’s down 28 percent since 2003.

Also during that period, smoking by New York high schoolers fell 38 percent, to 12.5 percent (vs. 17 percent nationally).

And low-income New Yorkers (those making less than $30,000), though they smoke much more than wealthier ones, do so at a much lower rate than their national counterparts: 24.3 percent to 33.7 percent.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thinks the state should spend six times more than it does on smoking prevention. Doing so would likely have some impact, but how much is debatable.

Undoubtedly much of the state’s progress in recent years can be attributed to its highest-in-the-nation cigarette tax — $4.35 per pack.

And laws adopted at the state and local levels over the last decade have made it tougher for smokers to light up without going outside, and far from places where large numbers of people or children might congregate.

Obviously, kids have been getting the word about smoking from the time they start school (if they haven’t already gotten it at home), and there’s been less glamorization of smoking on TV and in movies in recent years. As for adults, it’s hard to believe there are any adult smokers who haven’t heard that they’re killing themselves and should quit.

Granted, quitting isn’t easy, and aids like smokers’ quit lines and nicotine replacement drugs can be of some use. But ultimately, smokers have to want to quit and resist the temptation to light up on their own, because cigarettes are always going to be available.

In other words, there’s only so far the state can go — and only so much money the state can spend — to achieve the desired effect.

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