On a budget, luxuries are often the first line to be cut.
Last week, The Associated Press released a study which showed that low-income smokers in New York on average spend a quarter of their yearly income on cigarettes.
Furthermore, the study touched upon how New York having the highest tax on cigarettes has helped the smoking rate in the state decline from 21.6 percent in 2003 to 15.5 percent in 2010.
However, according to Laurie Adams of the Tri-County Tobacco Control Coalition, the three counties of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany still have the highest rate of smoking in all of New York state.
Adams lists two primary reasons for this occurrence: these counties fall into the lowest socioeconomic group in the state and the residents of the three counties have easy access to untaxed cigarettes on Indian reservations.
With regard to peoples of low socioeconomic standing, the study showed that 24.3 percent of New York residents who make less than $30,000 a year are smokers, where only 10.1 percent of residents who make more than $60,000 smoke. Some would say, however, that this statistic is a catch-22, and that a low income could be the result of smoking just as easily as smoking could be the result of a low income.
How the tri-county's high smoking rate correlates to its relative proximity to Indian reservations is more elementary.
"We are sandwiched between two nations where cigarettes are not $10 per pack," said Adams. "If you are in New York City and you are a member of social services, you're paying $70 a week for cigarettes. Some people are spending over $500 a month on cigarettes in the city. Our goal here is to raise awareness on how important a study like that is, because the best way to get folks to quit is to keep the prices of cigarettes high. However, here in (the tri-county area), we're not on a level playing field. While there are some smokers who do not want to quit, and we respect that, 90 percent of all smokers say they wish they could quit. When we have access to such cheap cigarettes, though, that number goes down, because financial burden is certainly a motivating factor to quit."
According to the study, "tax evasion, such as purchasing untaxed cigarettes on Indian reservations or contraband cigarettes, is a serious problem in New York. Cigarette tax evasion is both a public health problem that undermines efforts to reduce smoking with higher cigarettes prices and a financial problem that costs the state significant revenue."
According to the Tri-County Tobacco Control Coalition, the study points to the need for New York to take three actions to continue its progress in reducing smoking:
New York should increase overall funding for its tobacco prevention and cessation program, which has been cut in half in recent years and provide more targeted assistance to help low-income smokers quit. It is critical to both provide and promote smoking cessation services to low-income smokers.
There needs to be a strong push to reduce tax evasion. Both the state and New York City recently have increased enforcement actions to collect tobacco taxes and crack down on contraband sales. They must continue and step up these efforts.
New York should implement policies to reduce the tobacco industry's ability to target low-income populations.
The coalition believes that becomes they smoke more, lower-income smokers suffer disproportionately from smoking-caused disease. According to the coalition, it is not high cigarette taxes that burden low-income households, but smoking itself, because low-income people smoke more, suffer more, spend more and die more from tobacco use.
And though Adams believes there is an extensive amount of work to be done to continue to lower the smoking rate in New York, she believes that the past successes of the Tri-County Tobacco Control Coalition show that progress can be made.
"I've done this for over 15 years and when I started, the smoking rate in Chautauqua County was 40 percent," said Adams. "If we're down to 21 percent in our county, which is where we are probably at right now, that's half of where we were 15 years ago. So we have seen a dramatic decline in the amount of smoking even in areas of (high poverty). However, if we do not keep the pressure on, we will see a relapse. We need to keep prices high and we need to keep promoting the end goal of being tobacco free."