By Michèle De Meglio
They’re puffing away without a care in the world. In spite of various public health campaigns encouraging smokers to dump their cigarettes, teens and 20-somethings continue to have their daily nicotine fix. “The smoking rates by and large are going down in the country,” explained Judie LaRosa, professor of preventive medicine and community health and deputy director of the Master of Public Health program at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. However, “For young people, smoking rates are going up. There’s got to be a way of getting to those particular groups to see how we can change this.” Health officials say culture plays a part in Brooklynites deciding to reach for their cigs. “In southern Brooklyn, we have a lot of cultural groups that continue to smoke heavily,” LaRosa explained. Unsurprisingly, “Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death,” she said. According to the city Health Department, “80-90 percent of lung cancer is due to tobacco. Tobacco use also increases the risk of breast and colon cancer.” The department is pushing an anti-smoking initiative in hope of decreasing the number of city residents dying of lung cancer. The Health Department has given away free nicotine replacement patches to smokers trying to kick the habit. Contact 311 for more information. “Smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in New York City…1.17 million New Yorkers smoke, but seven out of every 10 smokers want to stop,” the Health Department says. The American Cancer Society explains, “About half of all Americans who continue to smoke will die because of the habit. Each year about 440,000 people die in the United States from illnesses related to cigarette smoking. Cigarettes kill more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide, and illegal drugs combined.” Tips to quit smoking are posted on the Health Department’s website, www.nyc.gov/health.