State Health Commissioner Commends Efforts in Ulster County to Protect Residents From Secondhand Smoke in Outdoor Places

Part of six-county Public Health Week tour

ROSENDALE, N.Y. (April 5, 2011) – New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., was joined by county and local officials on Tuesday as he visited a smokefree Rosendale playground to highlight efforts to protect the health of children and families by creating smokefree outdoor public areas.

Commissioner Shah was joined by Ulster County Executive Michael Hein, Ulster County Public Health Director La Mar Hasbrouck, M.D., MPH, Rosendale Town Supervisor Patrick McDonough, and Ellen Reinhard, director of the Tobacco Free Action Coalition of Ulster County.

"By prohibiting tobacco use in public outdoor areas such as parks, playgrounds, and beaches, Ulster County is making great progress toward its goal of becoming the healthiest county in the state," said Commissioner Shah. "There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, which is a danger even in outdoor areas. Children exposed to even small amounts of secondhand smoke are at heightened risk for adverse health effects."

Dr. Shah is visiting communities in six counties during National Public Health Week to draw attention to the State's public health priorities and to showcase local initiatives that are addressing those priorities.

In Ulster County, 23 of 24 municipalities have adopted or plan to adopt local laws or policies to restrict smoking in public recreation areas.

"Ulster County is establishing itself as a leader in protecting children and families from the dangers of secondhand smoke," Dr. Shah said. "This is occurring in large part as a result of county and local leadership and a strong partnership with the Tobacco Free Action Coalition."

Ulster County Executive Mike Hein said, "Smoking related diseases cause pain for victims and billions in unnecessary health care costs for taxpayers. In Ulster County we are fighting to protect our families and children from secondhand smoke in parks and playgrounds throughout the county. Every community either has regulations on the books to prohibit smoking in public recreation areas or is considering local action. I thank each of them for their participation and Dr. Shah for acknowledging our collective efforts."

Ulster County Public Health Director Hasbrouck said, "We are all well aware of the significant health and public health risks associated with smoking. If the current rates of smoking continue, nearly 400,000 of our children throughout New York State who are alive today will ultimately die from smoking related diseases. This number is unacceptable and Ulster County is at the forefront of change."

Rosendale Town Supervisor Patrick McDonough said, "The Town of Rosendale has long been an advocate for living a healthy lifestyle through its active youth and recreation programs. We feel that a smokefree environment in a location that is set aside for the purpose of living that healthy lifestyle sets the perfect example."

Ellen Reinhard, Director of the Tobacco Free Action Coalition (TFAC) of Ulster County, said, "The ongoing partnership between the TFAC and the county has been instrumental in efforts to protect our children and community from the dangers of tobacco. A Tobacco free outdoor policy ensures that our children are not subjected to secondhand smoke and that playgrounds are not littered with cigarette buts. It also helps de-normalize tobacco use, which encourages adults to quit and helps prevent youth from ever starting."

Smoking continues to be the leading preventable cause of sickness and death in New York State and the United States. Health care costs related to treating smoking-caused diseases total approximately $8 billion annually for New York alone, with lost productivity costs associated with smoking totaling more than $6 billion a year.

Studies have shown that children exposed to even small amounts of secondhand smoke are at heightened risk for adverse health effects. Prohibiting smoking in outdoor areas also limits cigarette butt litter. Cigarette filters are not 100 percent biodegradable. As the filters break down, they leach toxic chemicals into the ground that can seep into waterways, polluting water sources and poisoning wildlife. Discarded cigarette buts contain concentrated levels of carcinogens as well as nicotine that can be poisonous when ingested by children.

In New York State, 17.9 percent of adults are smokers. About 12 percent of high school students smoke.