"Non-smoking, please." Ten years ago today, you no longer had to say that when you went to dinner in a New York City restaurant. Also, if you tended bar or worked in a restaurant, you no longer had to breathe in toxic secondhand smoke while you worked your shift.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the NYC Smoke-Free Air Act, a landmark piece of legislation that has helped New Yorkers breathe easier and live longer. Thanks to this bold health policy, New Yorkers are able to breathe clean, smoke-free air in the workplace, regardless of whether they work in a high-rise office or neighborhood restaurant or bar.
We often forget that just 10 years ago, many New Yorkers couldn't earn a living without risking their lives. Waiters and waitresses, bartenders and nightclub performers, maître-des and bus boys all went to work every day in smoke-filled bars, restaurants and nightclubs. These workers are the backbone of the service industry and essential to our city's economy. They deserve the right to do their job in a smoke-free environment. The right to breathe is more important than the perceived right to pollute. The NYC Smoke-Free Air Act protected all New Yorkers' right to breathe smoke-free air at work.
New York City is recognized as a leader in protecting public health, and New Yorkers have embraced cleaner air and sharply declining smoking rates. The smoking rate among adults decreased from 21.5 percent in 2002 to 14.8 percent in 2011 and from 17.5 percent to 8.5 percent among youth. In spite of those who predicted that protecting New Yorkers' health would hurt the economy, we have seen significant increases in business and employment in our bars and restaurants and the tourism sector. Also, when was the last time you heard someone complain about the lack of smoke-filled offices or restaurants?
New York City is a beacon across the country and around the world. Following our lead, more than 500 U.S. municipalities and 49 countries have passed smoke-free laws since 2003, affecting more than 1.5 billion people. Smoke-free workplace laws protect workers, save lives, and made smoking less socially acceptable.
We have made great strides in protecting all New Yorkers' health and a real difference in our city. But more work needs to be done. Smoking rates among teens have dropped considerably over the last decade, but the rate of decline has ground to a halt in recent years. Youth smoking in New York City reached a historic low of 8.5 percent in 2007, but it has remained level since then. That's still 19,000 NYC public high school students under the age of 18 who currently smoke; one-third of them will die prematurely as a result of smoking.
The battle against tobacco is far from over, and tobacco companies remain as ruthless as ever in targeting our kids, the replacement smokers they need for the more than 400,000 Americans killed by tobacco use each year.
That's why we applaud Mayor Bloomberg and New York City Council for proposing two bold and historic tobacco control bills that will reduce youth smoking. The "Tobacco Product Display Restriction" bill would make New York City the first in the nation to prohibit retailers from displaying tobacco products prominently and in plain view of youth and other customers. We know that the more tobacco product displays kids see, the more likely they are to smoke. The proposed bill will help protect youth from being bombarded by tobacco displays at all New York City retail outlets.
A new set of "Sensible Tobacco Enforcement and Pricing" (STEP) initiatives was also proposed. STEP would increase the fines and penalties for selling untaxed tobacco, restrict the use of coupons and price discounts, and create a price floor for a pack of cigarettes or little cigars. These measures will not only reduce youth access to tobacco products, but through increased enforcement of illegal sales and tobacco tax evasion, will level the playing field for local businesses that play by the rules.
These proposed policies will help save lives and potentially millions of dollars in health care costs. As we look back and celebrate 10 years of smoke-free workplaces in New York, let's not rest on our laurels. We have a long way to go. We are committed to providing all New Yorkers with the resources they need to quit smoking and preventing our youth from ever starting to light up.
These new initiatives will solidify New York City's legacy as an innovative national and global public health leader and help even more New Yorkers live longer, healthier lives.