HHC and the city Department of Health teamed up on April 1 to encourage New Yorkers to quit smoking. Why April 1? Because that was the day the federal tax on cigarettes went up by 62 cents, bringing the price up to $9 a pack in New York City.
QuitSmoking Clinics at HHC facilities around the city saw a wave of new patients come in. Neil Madero, senior rehab counselor in the smoking cessation program at Bellevue Hospital Center, said they got 32 new patients in the clinic on April 1 compared to the usual number of eight to 10 patients a day.
"A lot of people said, ‘I've been thinking about it for a long time, but now that the price is going up, now I have to quit," Madero said. He said the clinic had already experienced increased demand in the previous two weeks as word spread about the new tax.
In Queens, Elmhurst Hospital Center saw a 50% increase in walk-ins and a large increase in phone calls from people requesting information. By the end of the day, they had enrolled 37 new patients. In Brooklyn, Woodhull Hospital signed up 35 new patients.
By day's end, HHC hospitals and health centers enrolled 281 new patients.
At some locations, the heightened interest continued for several days. On April 1, Harlem Hospital signed up nine new patients at its QuitSmoking Clinic. Harlem also took its smoking cessation program to the bank – Carver Federal Savings Bank – setting up a table at the branch on 125th Street and another table at the Carver bank branch on 117th Street, signing up another 20 new patients, according to Eugenia Graham, director of Harlem's smoking cessation program.
"Over the past three years, we have helped more than 25,000 patients to quit smoking successfully" said HHC President Alan D. Aviles. "Research suggests that at least one-third of these patients, or about 8,000 former smokers, will avoid smoking-related disease and premature death as a result."
Making cigarettes more expensive is especially effective in preventing young people from starting to smoke because few can afford such an expensive habit. Nationally, 20 percent of adolescents smoke, while in New York City, it's 9 percent.
"Now is the time to quit," said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City Health Commissioner. "Smoking is hurting your health and your wallet. For the many New Yorkers looking to save money during these tough times, this is a great way to do it. You will feel better, your families will be safer, and you will save thousands of dollars."
QuitSmoking Clinics at the city public hospitals provide comprehensive treatment for tobacco use. HHC offers individuals a variety of ways to stop smoking, including nicotine replacement therapy, counseling and case management to help patients remain engaged in treatment. New Yorkers can call 311 for more information.