What will happen if we don’t stand up to Big Tobacco?

March 30, 2023

By Michael Davoli

With every proposal to limit tobacco’s dangerous impact on our communities through restrictions on sales and tougher regulations, the tobacco industry and its supporters claim, without evidence, that such proposals will have serious unintended consequences. For years, Big Tobacco has assailed any attempt to reduce tobacco use in New York City and State, opposing efforts by community leaders and public health groups to, for example, prohibit smoking in bars and restaurants. Today, Big Tobacco remains persistent in its opposition to state and local proposals to end the sale of menthol cigarettes along with all other flavored tobacco products and increase the tax on cigarettes. Proponents of the tobacco industry warn about what may happen if we stand up to Big Tobacco and enact tougher regulations on their deadly products. My question to state leaders is what will happen if we don’t stand up to Big Tobacco?  I want to paint a picture of what it will look like for New Yorkers if the state legislature does not enact a comprehensive end to the sale of every flavored tobacco product—menthol included.

An analysis of the New York State Department of Health Cancer Registry shows that, between 2015-2019, an average of 46,417 people each year in New York State were diagnosed with a cancer linked to tobacco use, and 13,638 people died from a cancer linked to cigarette smoking; whereas in New York City, 16,861 people on average each year were diagnosed with a cancer linked to tobacco use, and 4,833 people died from a cancer linked to cigarette smoking.  When you include all smoking-related illnesses and disease, like heart disease, stroke and diabetes, cigarette smoking is expected to kill 28,200 adult New Yorkers this year alone.  

Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in New York for both men and women, and over 80% of lung cancer deaths in the U.S are linked to cigarette smoking.  In 2023, an estimated 14,150 New Yorkers will be diagnosed with lung cancer and an estimated 6,330 will die from the disease.  That said, lung cancer isn’t the only cancer that results from tobacco use; at least 12 types of cancer have been linked to tobacco use. When combined, cancers linked to tobacco use make up 40% of all cancer diagnoses, and cigarette smoking causes 3 in 10 of all cancer deaths. 

There are widespread disparities in who will develop and die from certain cancers. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Black men and the second-leading cause in Black women. Tobacco-related cancer mortality is higher among Black people than White people primarily because of historically higher smoking prevalence. Without taking steps to reduce the impact of tobacco on the lives of people of color, we will see health disparities compound on themselves. We should be taking steps to reform systemic health inequities, not fuel them. Our communities deserve better.

It is time for state leaders to once and for all get serious about lowering tobacco use rates and, with it, cancer incidence and deaths. If we are to end the deadly impact that tobacco has on our kids and communities, then we must adopt a comprehensive strategy that starts with removing flavored products, like menthol cigarettes, from the tobacco industry toolbox, raising the tax on cigarettes and all other tobacco products and increasing support for cessation programs, such as the New York State Tobacco Control Program.  

State leaders must reject Big Tobacco’s fear mongering and lies and instead follow the facts. I urge Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie as well as Senate President Pro Tempore and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to support this effort for the sake of their constituents’ health and quality of life. Thousands of New Yorkers will die from cancers linked to tobacco and other smoking related illnesses and diseases if we don’t stand up to Big Tobacco.  

Michael Davoli is the New York Senior Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN)

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