By Assemblyman Will Barclay
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on Smoking and Health.
That report, issued in 1964, was the first federal government report linking smoking to ill health, including lung cancer and heart disease.
The news was a wake-up call to America.
Following the landmark report, government began its tobacco control efforts. Since 1964, the smoking rate in the nation has been reduced by 58 percent. Fifty years ago, about 42 percent of adults smoked. Today’s rate is 18 percent.
The lower smoking rate has saved numerous lives. According to a report issued by the Journal of the American Medical Association last month, researchers estimate 8 million lives have been saved since 1964 when the public became more aware of the dangers of smoking.
Our state rate — 17 percent — is still a high rate when you consider the known health costs associated with smoking. Unfortunately, our regional smoking rate is estimated to be even higher.
A state report indicates Oswego County’s smoking rate is 27.4 percent, based on data from the state Health Department from 2010.
Local health officials more recently estimate the rate to be as high as 32 percent. In Jefferson County, the smoking rate is 23.7 percent and in Onondaga County, the smoking rate is 20 percent.
I recently met with local health officials to discuss some of the health care challenges unique to our region. Presentations on tobacco use, among other health issues, were given at the local Rural Health Network’s meeting.
Data presented there showed as many as 26 percent of pregnant women smoked during their pregnancy in Oswego County in 2011. Health officials also reported Oswego County has a high death rate from lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory diseases.
Research shows obesity and smoking contribute to all of the above.
Local data also indicates smoking rates of pregnant women on Medicaid was as high as 42 percent compared to 8 percent of pregnant women with private insurance. While the numbers are alarming, it’s beneficial to have this data so we can work to reduce these rates, specifically in Oswego County.
The good news, health officials say, is the physician to population ratio will hopefully help our region reduce these rates and prevent premature death and illness.
At the state level, I’m pushing for reforms that would make those on cash assistance unable to purchase cigarettes using EBT cards. In fact, the state is in jeopardy of losing federal dollars if it does not reform its policies as well, so I’m hopeful this will change soon.
Though incidents of tobacco use may be higher regionally, tobacco use remains the number one preventable cause of death in New York, and lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths in the state.
Other health issues such as high blood pressure, stroke and other ailments are also caused by smoking.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that those who smoke are two to four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease and two to four times more likely to have a stroke. Men and women who smoke are 25 times more likely to develop lung cancer.
Tobacco use is also responsible for diminished health, increased absenteeism from work and increased health care costs. The CDC also reports that tobacco use costs at least $133 billion in direct medical care of adults and more than $156 billion lost in productivity.
Secondhand smoke is also estimated to cost the country $5.6 billion in lost productivity each year, according to the CDC. Last year the state Assembly unanimously passed a bill that banned smoking at on the grounds of 100 hospitals. I was pleased to support this in the Assembly.
To access cessation resources, visit http://www.nysmokefree.com/ or call NY Quits at 1-866-NY-QUITS.
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