New York Mayor Takes on Global Smoking
March 30, 2012

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently donated $220 million of his own money through his charitable foundation to reduce smoking around the world. The effort will focus in particular on countries where tobacco use is most prevalent.

New York is increasingly a health conscious city. There's no smoking in restaurants, in bars or even in public parks. That's all the result of the mayor's aggressive anti-tobacco health policies over the past decade.

The city also runs advertising campaigns alerting residents to the hazards of smoking.

Aiming to raise cigarette taxes

Bloomberg says his donation will be aimed in part at convincing governments overseas to raise cigarette taxes. He says such taxes are the single most important factor to discourage smoking. Bloomberg notes that a pack of cigarettes in New York costs about $12.  

“Only 7 percent of our kids report they smoke, and only 14 percent of adults. Those are amazing numbers - way down from where it was 10 years ago, and that’s why life expectancy in New York City is three years greater than America as a whole.”

Bloomberg said five countries account for half of the smoking in the world: China, India, Indonesia, Russia and Bangladesh.  

Last year in India, singer Shaan released a music video in Bollywood, Mumbai’s entertainment capital, titled Don’t Play with Your Life.

“It is a part of our campaign to change the thinking of the youth and to make them understand in their language and in their ways that there is no heroism or machismo in chewing tobacco, or smoking cigarettes, or [that] it will make you cool, or you will be a hero. It is nothing like that,” said Shaan.

Pushback likely from tobacco groups

Bloomberg’s effort is not likely to go unopposed. For example, Ukraine recently filed a World Trade Organization suit against Australia for a law that requires plain paper cigarette packaging. Ukraine argues the law hurts Ukrainian tobacco growers who are looking for export markets. And the tobacco industry itself is fighting back. Cigarette producer Philip Morris fears that generic packaging will strip the corporation of value associated with brands. Spokeswoman Anne Edwards spoke on Australian radio.

“You may have no sympathy for us whatsoever, but I think the principle is the same; you can’t just take people’s property without compensation,” said the Philip Morris spokeswoman.

Bloomberg is undaunted. He says his donation also will be used to help stop some types of tobacco advertising and to make smoking unglamorous.