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Gary Younge
Triple blow knocks the puff out of New York's smokers

A huge increase in cigarette tax and a ban on smoking in bars in New York has cut the number of adult smokers by 100,000, according to city surveys released yesterday.

From 2002 to 2003 the number of adult smokers fell by 11%. Meanwhile those who did not quit, smoked 13% less.

"From what we've seen, we believe New York City experienced the steepest decline anywhere in one year," the health commissioner, Thomas Fried-en, told the New York Times.

The fall, which represented a decline in the total city population who smoked from 21.6% to 19.3%, occurred across all boroughs, ages and ethnic and racial groups. But it was most marked among the poorest, particularly the young, those who live in the Bronx, African-Americans, Hispanics and women.

The principal reason for the decrease, say city health officials, is the more than eighteenfold increase in cigarette taxes, from eight cents a pack to $1.50 (85p), in 2002. A pack of 20 now costs about $7.50 (£4.27).

Last year New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, imple-mented a ban in bars, restaurants and workplaces, throwing huddles of smokers out on to the pavement between drinks and courses.

Mr Bloomberg, who also launched a citywide anti-smoking campaign, has declared his support for raising the state's minimum age for smoking from 18 to 19 - a proposal currently before New York state's legislature.

"You would expect a dramatic result," said Dr Steven Schroeder, a professor of health and health care at the University of California at San Francisco. "New York did the perfect trifecta that no one has attempted before - raising taxes very steeply, making it harder to smoke indoors and promoting cessation."

Both the ban and the tax hike prompted considerable controversy, which caused some to question the data coming from city hall. "I take a pessimistic view of their figures because I suspect they're geared to supporting their agenda," a city councillor, Tony Avella, said.

In March, Ireland became the first country in the world to ban smoking in all workplaces. A ban in bars and restaurants takes effect in Norway on June 1.

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