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Fewer New Yorkers smoke now than ever before

Women smoke at Central Park on September 14,

Women smoke at Central Park on September 14, 2009 in New York, New York. (Photo by RJ Mickelson/amNY) Photo Credit: Women smoke at Central Park on September 14, 2009 in New York, New York.(Photo by RJ Mickelson/amNY)

More New Yorkers are saying smoking’s a drag.

That’s according to health department stats released Thursday that claim the city’s adult smoking rate has dropped to an all-time low of 14%, from 22% in 2002.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg credited the decline – which equates to about 450,000 fewer smokers – to the city’s aggressive campaign, which has included banning smoking in all work places, restaurants and bars in 2002 and in parks and other public spaces last May.

Anti-smoking advocates said hikes in cigarette prices contributed to the decline in smoking. In 2008, the city increased its tobacco tax from $1.50 to $2.75, bringing a pack to about $8.

“Smoking doesn’t only do damage to the person who smokes. Downwind, in the same room, in the same car, other people breathe the air,” Bloomberg, himself an ex-smoker, said at a news conference in Queens.

Smokers, however, are fuming at the crack down, and say the city’s survey isn’t necessarily accurate because people aren’t always forthcoming about their addictions.

Audrey Silk, founder of Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, said lawmakers have gone too far.

“The power of taxation and legislation to coerce behavior … with an otherwise free product is no different than boasting they’ve cut off hands to keep people from smoking – and expecting approval and admiration for the act,” Silk said.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley suggested Thursday that the city could keep pushing educational initiatives to further decrease the city’s smoking rate, as opposed to crafting more drastic laws.

Farley said the goal for next year is to drop the adult smoking rate to 12%.

Smoking will kill about 7,000 New Yorkers this year, Farley said, which is “way too many deaths and they are preventable.”

Neighborhoods that have seen more than a 50% drop in smoking includes Chelsea/Greenwich Village and Union Square/Lower Manhattan, the survey showed.

Teen smoking rates also reportedly dropped to 7% in 2010 from 18% in 2001.

Nationwide, the adult smoking rate fell slightly to 19.3% in 2010, from 20.9% in 2005 – or about 3 million fewer smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“New York City for an awful lot of people sets the style … so the fact that we’ve made all this progress here really will help the entire country,” Bloomberg said.

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