Upstate NY adults more likely to smoke than adults in rest of the state and nation

An Affordable Care Act provision supports smokers who have resolved to quit

ROCHESTER, NY (12/18/2014)(readMedia)-- Cigarette smoking among upstate New Yorkers has steadily declined since 2004, but smoking rates in upstate New York continue to be higher than state and national averages, according to a new Excellus BlueCross BlueShield report issued today.

"We've issued this report now with the hope that people who are considering a New Year's resolution to quit smoking will find in it another strong incentive to walk away from this life-shortening habit," said Jamie Kerr, M.D., Excellus BCBS vice president and chief medical officer for utilization management. "There are also a variety of tools available to help smokers who have resolved to quit," Kerr added.

A provision of the Affordable Care Act provides greater access to resources that can help smokers quit. For many Americans who have private health insurance plans, tobacco use screenings for adults, cessation interventions for tobacco users and expanded counseling for pregnant women who smoke are now covered at no out-of-pocket cost. For people who have Medicare coverage, stop smoking counseling also is covered.

Issued during the 50th anniversary year of the first Surgeon General's report linking smoking to lung cancer, the Excellus BCBS report found that while 20.9 percent of upstate New York adults smoke, the smoking rate among all New York state adults is significantly lower (16.2 percent), and the smoking rate among U.S. adults is also lower (18.1 percent).

The data also shows that over the past decade, the rate of adult smokers in upstate New York has declined 5.4 points, while the rate of adult smokers in New York state declined 4.9 points, and the rate of adult smokers in the U.S. declined 3.7 points.

Kerr expressed concern that more people haven't quit.

"A significant amount of money has been spent over the past five decades to educate the public about the dangers of smoking, New York state passed legislation restricting where people can smoke, and the state's taxes on cigarettes are among the highest in the country," said Kerr. "Despite all that, about 24,000 New Yorkers die each year from diseases caused by smoking cigarettes, and another 3,000 lives are claimed by exposure to secondhand smoke."

Excellus BCBS's "The Facts About Cigarette Smoking Among Upstate New York Adults" reports that smoking costs New York state more than $15.6 billion (2014 dollars) each year in direct medical costs and economic productivity losses.

"Imagine the initiatives that could be funded in our state by re-directing $15.6 billion to purposes other than those related to tobacco use," said Kerr.

Smoking among New York state adults varies by socio-economic demographic:

  • One in five adults age 25 to 34 (21.0 percent) smoke.
  • Adults who haven't earned a high school diploma or GED are more than three times as likely to smoke (24.0 percent) than college graduates (7.3 percent).
  • Adults with incomes below $15,000 are more than twice as likely to smoke (25.2 percent) than those with incomes of $50,000 or more (11.7 percent).

"Our intent in writing this report was to document 50 years of progress in reducing the impact of cigarette smoking on public health and health care spending, but instead we found a 50-year mix of success and failure," said Kerr. "Our hope is that those people who have resolved to quit smoking in 2015 will take advantage of available support materials."

Quitting tips and resources for New Yorkers who already are smokers appear in the report. View "The Facts About Cigarette Smoking Among Upstate New York Adults" and an entire library of fact sheets on health, wellness and health care cost and access issues at

Go to to watch a video with former upstate New York smokers who offer smoking cessation tips.

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Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, a nonprofit independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association, is part of a family of companies that finances and delivers vital health care services to about 1.6 million people across upstate New York. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield provides access to high-quality, affordable health coverage, including valuable health-related resources that our members use every day, such as cost-saving prescription drug discounts and wellness tracking tools. To learn more, visit