Regardless of the numerous legislative efforts to fight smoking and nicotine addiction, ranging from higher sin taxes on tobacco products to public-relations campaigns intended to discourage the use of e-cigarettes, the hazardous habit has consistently risen in New York City. According to Heartland, tobacco use in the city’s population has steadily increased in the city for the last three consecutive years, going from 14 percent in 2010 to 16.1 percent in 2013. The officials are quick to blame a decrease in funding for anti-smoking programs as the main cause, but public policy researchers disagree with this verdict.
The absence of any equivalence between spending on anti-tobacco programs and their unsatisfying results is not due to a lack of effort, according to Fellow Jeff Stier, National Center for Public Policy Research Senior. Some of the government agenda that is intended as part of the city’s all-out efforts to discourage tobacco use include serious restrictions on the placement of tobacco displays, free nicotine gum and patch giveaways, and some of the highest sin-tax rates in the US.
However, besides the lack of correspondence between the government spending on anti-tobacco programs and actual results, these types of public health campaigns fail to effectively use already available intermediate products, such as popular electronic cigarettes, to achieve the results intended.
Even though there were increasingly used by smokers as a ‘stepping stool’ to discourage one’s self off tobacco addiction, former city Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided to ban the use of electronic cigarette devices in public places. As one of his final official acts as the city’s mayor, Bloomberg signed into law an amendment to the Smoke-Free Air Act of 2002 banning these devices from parks, buses, stadiums and virtually all public spaces.
‘Instead of supporting their use to help people quit smoking, the New York City public health establishment spends resources demonizing e-cigarettes and making them less appealing,’ explained Jeff Stier.
According to a study by Michael Marlow, Distinguished Scholar and Professor of Economics at the California Polytechnic State University, if government agencies became more prone to embrace electronic cigarettes as a tool to advance stated public-health objectives, tobacco cessation efforts would become more effective, with ‘between 2.4 and 6.4 million smokers’ successfully kicking the habit. This alone could represent a cost benefit ranging between $15.6 and $49.2 billion per year.
‘Public health officials should learn a lesson,’ Stier believes. ‘Put your hands back in your pockets, stop asking for more money and more tax increases for your ineffective policies, and instead show some humility, given the new findings.’
But at the same time, following mayor Bloomberg’s footsteps, the Federal Drug and Food Administration is also working on new nationwide regulations concerning electronic cigarettes, allowing them to further control and regulate usage of such products.
This ‘guilty until proven innocent’ type of policy is greatly blocking some of the State’s public health goals, and at the same time increasing the amount of money spent on healthcare by people getting sick from the chemicals inside tobacco smoke.