Smoking Rates on the Rise in New York City

NEW YORK (AP) -

For the first time in years, more than 1 million New Yorkers are smoking, according to data released Monday, marking a disturbing rise of tobacco use in the city that pioneered a number of anti-smoking initiatives that were emulated nationally.

Sixteen percent of adult New Yorkers smoked in 2013, up from 14 percent in 2010, which was the city’s lowest recorded rate, according to the findings released by New York City’s Department of Health.

Paula Halton, smoking a cigarette outside a Manhattan building on Monday, found it hard to believe there had been an increase in the numbers of smokers.

“I feel definitely like a minority compared to what it used to be,” the 39-year-old Brooklyn resident said. “I can’t imagine an adult picking up smoking now.”

The rise in 2013, which is the most recent data available, is striking since it comes as smoking rates fall across the country. However, the national average — 18 percent — is still higher than it is in New York.

The findings were culled from answers to the department’s annual health survey of thousands of city residents.

“We’ve had a plateau in the smoking rate for a couple of years, but now it is a statistically significant increase,” said Dr. Mary Bassett, the city’s health commissioner. “We now know the rise is real and we aim to do something about it.”

The culture of smoking has changed, Bassett said. The city has seen a rise in part-time smokers — including some social smokers who don’t turn to cigarettes every day — and that is the demographic being targeted by the government’s new $830,000 ad campaign entitled “Imagine for Life.”

“We’re aiming at smokers who think they don’t smoke enough for it to hurt him,” Bassett said. “This is a product that is not safe in any amount.”