Great American Smokeout Spotlights Need to Help
Low Income, Low Education or Poor Mental Health Groups

The Great American Smokeout on Thursday, November 20 reminds us annually that quitting smoking is essential for good health, but the most at-risk populations in New York haven't been able to quit on this day or any other.

Tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable disease and death, killing nearly 24,000 New Yorkers every year[i] and afflicting nearly 600,000 New Yorkers with serious disease directly attributable to their smoking.[ii] Tobacco is not an equal opportunity killer - there has been no reduction in smoking rates among low income adults, adults with poor mental health, and those with less than a high school education.[iii]

Western New York has some of the highest smoking rates in the state. In Erie County, the smoking rate is 26% and in Niagara country, the smoking rate is 27%.

"The Great American Smokeout has helped bring about dramatic changes in people's attitudes toward tobacco and smoking. These changes have led to community programs and tobacco-free policies that are now saving lives. While tobacco smoking rates have declined significantly across most of New York State, the high rates in Erie and Niagara counties demonstrate there is much work to be done," said Anthony Billoni, Director of Tobacco-Free Western New York.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein adds, "Tobacco takes a huge toll on Erie County residents. Smoking is the major cause of lung cancer, contributing to 80% of lung cancer deaths in women and 90% of lung cancer deaths in men. Quitting smoking at any age will help reduce the health risks associated with tobacco use."

The most recent data available for New York State suggests that vulnerable populations use tobacco at nearly twice the rate of the general population. Smoking use has not declined significantly among those
• with less than a high school diploma - one in four smoke
• with an income below $15,000 - one in four smoke
• who report their mental health as poor - one in three smoke.

Research shows that low income communities also are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry with marketing at retailers. Due to the clear evidence of these disparities that exist in tobacco use, tobacco control efforts are focused on strengthening community support for tobacco-free policies that help people quit and prevent youth from initiating tobacco use, particularly in communities such as Erie and Niagara counties that still have high tobacco use rates. These efforts include encouraging policies that promote smoke-free outdoors and smoke-free housing, and policies that reduce youth exposure to tobacco marketing.

"Community support to help smokers quit and keep kids from starting to smoke will continue to have a major impact on the health of residents of Western New York now and in the future," said Andrew Hyland, PhD, Chair of the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. "We hope smokers take advantage of all the resources available throughout the year which give smokers a greater chance to successfully quit today or in the near future."

For help quitting, talk with your doctor and for support call the New York State Smokers' Quitline at 1-866-NY-QUITS or visit

About Tobacco-Free Western New York
Roswell Park Cancer Institute established a tobacco-free community outreach program in 1993 and today administers three programs in Western New York: Tobacco-Free Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany (CCA); Tobacco-Free Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming (GLOW) and Tobacco-Free Erie-Niagara (EN). Each locally-based program is funded by the New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Tobacco Control. Goals are to prevent youth tobacco initiation through Reality Check youth outreach and to prevent and reduce tobacco use among adults across this region and in New York State. To learn more, visit our website, friend us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

[i] Best Practices for Comprehensive Tobacco Control Programs, 2014, Section C: Recommended Funding Levels, by State New York, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
[ii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General., 2010,
[iii] 2012 Independent Evaluation Report of the New York Tobacco Control Program, RTI International, 2012,

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