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Press Release

Press Release # 021-08
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

CONTACT: (212) 788-5290
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Cigarette Smoking Is 60% Higher in Staten Island than in Other Boroughs

One in Five Staten Island Women Smoke during Pregnancy

NEW YORK CITY - Tuesday, March 25, 2008 – In the face of stubbornly high smoking rates on Staten Island, the Health Department today announced a new advertising campaign aimed at encouraging residents to quit. More than one in four Staten Island adults (27%) still smoke, compared to less than one in five (17%) in the rest of New York City. And the smoking rate has not budged in Staten Island since 2002, even as it has plummeted in all other boroughs. The Health Department also announced a new effort for Staten Island health care providers, which includes alerting them to the problem and providing guidance on how to treat nicotine addiction.

The new campaign includes two television ads, now airing on Staten Island cable. The spots feature real people whose lives were tragically altered by smoking. The first, Rick Stoddard, lost his wife to smoking-related cancer when she was 46. The other, Debi Austin, had to have a tracheotomy after she developed throat cancer from smoking. The ads, originally produced in Massachusetts and California, are airing for the first time in New York City.

A new analysis found that one in five pregnant women on Staten Island (19%) smoked in their third trimester of pregnancy, a rate four times higher than the smoking rates among pregnant women in other boroughs (5-6%). The Health Department estimates that 700 babies born each year on the island are at risk for premature birth and low-birth weight because their mothers smoked during pregnancy. This analysis is based on the latest available data, from 2004 and 2005. 

Nicotine Patch Giveaway
at Staten Island Ferry Terminal
on March 24, March 31, and April 7
from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“We are very concerned about the continued high rate of smoking on Staten Island,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City Health Commissioner. “As many as 90,000 Staten Islanders are addicted to cigarettes, and 30,000 of them are likely to die prematurely as a result. Thousands of others will suffer disabling strokes, heart attacks, and other illnesses. We hope this new effort will start to turn the tide, and that Staten Island will catch up with other boroughs in the fight against tobacco addiction.”

Nearly a third of Staten Island smokers are heavy smokers, meaning they smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day. In the other boroughs, only a fifth of smokers fall into that category. The disparity is especially striking among male smokers. Some 40% of male smokers living in Staten Island smoke heavily, versus 23% of male smokers in the rest of New York City.  Not surprisingly, teen smoking parallels that of adults, with public high school students in Staten Island smoking at nearly twice the rate of those in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn.

“Anti-tobacco ads help people quit,” said Sarah B. Perl, Assistant Commissioner for the Health Department’s Bureau of Tobacco Control at the Health Department. “Across the city, we have seen declines in smoking when we have aired hard-hitting ads. In this campaign, we’re using ads that we think will hit home for Staten Islanders – ads that will show people what is at stake if they continue smoking.”

In addition to the targeted advertising, the Health Department is mailing letters to more than 1,000 health care providers on Staten Island. The agency will also distribute free nicotine patches at the Staten Island ferry terminals on March 24, March 31, and April 7 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. And Health Department researchers are conducting surveys among Staten Island families to learn more about smoking behavior.

Overall, New York City’s smoking rate has plummeted since a comprehensive program against smoking was launched in 2002. In 2006, the adult smoking rate was 17.5 percent – nearly 20% lower than the 2002 rate. That decline represents 240,000 fewer smokers. Anti-tobacco advertising has played a significant role, prompting increased demand for smoking-cessation services and driving down smoking rates, particularly among men and Hispanic New Yorkers since 2005. Staten Island has been the exception to this trend.

Staten Island Leaders Respond

“As a former smoker, I can attest to the fact that quality of life greatly improves once you stop smoking,” said James P. Molinaro, Staten Island Borough President.  “I encourage smokers to take advantage of the nicotine patch giveaway that the Department of Health is offering, and to take steps to ensure that today’s habit doesn’t become tomorrow’s nightmare.”

"When it comes to our home borough, the message about the horrors of nicotine addiction has not resonated as it has in other parts of the city,” said Council Member James Oddo of the 50th district of Staten Island.  “We are glad the city is redoubling efforts to free Staten Islanders from the lifetime of sickness and disease and the premature death that comes with smoking." 

“Hopefully, these ads depicting the horrible life threatening health consequences of cigarette smoking will discourage people from taking up smoking and encourage those that do smoke to quit,” said Council Member Michael E. McMahon of the 49th district of Staten Island.

“Staten Island has the dubious distinction of being the borough with the highest smoking in New York City and we need to do what we can to encourage people of Staten Island to stop smoking,” said Council Member Vincent M. Ignizio of the 51st district of Staten Island. “I am proud to both lend my support and office to any initiatives the Department of Health has to better serve my constituents and get them to quit.”

Help to Quit

If you smoke, quitting is the most important thing you can do for your health. If you can’t quit alone, try nicotine replacement therapy. It can double your chance of quitting successfully. New Yorkers who want to quit smoking can call 311 for help.

About the Data

Data on smoking rates among adults (excluding those data on pregnant women) come from the Health Department’s Community Health Survey. This telephone survey polls 10,000 randomly selected New Yorkers across the five boroughs each year on varied health behaviors and conditions.

Data on smoking among pregnant women come from the Health Department’s Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), a mail and telephone survey of more than 2,000 women who have given birth (about 1.5% of all NYC births). PRAMS is conducted annually among New York City residents randomly selected from recent birth certificates.

Data on smoking among high school students come from the biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), jointly conducted by the Health Department, the Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2007, the survey was conducted in 87 New York City high schools, resulting in 9,080 completed interviews.

Current Smokers in Staten Island and Rest of NYC, 2006


Staten Island


(w/o Staten Island)


















Heavy smokers (20+ cigarettes per day)









Percent of women who smoked during the last three months of pregnancy by borough,  2004 -2005











Staten Island