Dr. Achala Talati, DO, MS, MPH, director of Tobacco Policy and Programs, Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention, Center for Health Equity and Community Wellness, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, spoke with the Amsterdam News for a Q&A about tobacco programs, initiatives in the department, and resources for New Yorkers. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

AmNews: Please tell us about the work of your department.

Dr. Achala Talati: In terms of tobacco, even though we’ve made a lot of progress, [tobacco deaths are] still definitely a leading cause of death, still something really important that we need to address to reduce chronic disease. We tried to take a comprehensive approach, so that includes mass media campaigns and communication, to get that education and word out there is community engagement and outreach. We are having more of a bidirectional conversation and hearing [what people have to say].

Making sure we’re providing resources. Making sure that people know what those resources are, but also making sure that everyone in the city has access to no or low cost tobacco treatment resources.  

Finally, evaluation to make sure we’re evaluating what we’re doing, including using our surveillance data to see what’s working and what’s not working, and also where we need to reach the people who are affected the most. 

AmNews: Could you speak to some of the smoking campaigns the department has launched over the last few years?

We do tend to have a few different big campaigns every year. “You quit, you win” we’ve got right now. In tobacco control, media campaigns have a really strong evidence base and so that’s definitely a priority—for us to put out some of those media campaigns every year. We do introduce new and different campaigns every year because I think part of what we’ve realized is rotating some of those messages, having different messages out there, can help reach different people as well because different messages will resonate with different people. 

One of the big things that we promote in all the campaigns is the New York State Quitline [1-866-NYQUITS (1-866-697-8487; text, 716-309-4688), which is a great resource…people can apply for a free starter kit, they can talk to a coach to get help to make an individualized plan for what might work for them get some specific tips, and they can also call back as many times as they want if they ever need additional support.  

We’ve also realized that not everyone is ready to quit right away and so we’ve also been trying to make sure that people know that there are options for everyone, so if you’re ready to quit, that’s great and medications and counseling can definitely help and even double the chances of success. If you’re not ready to quit, maybe you are ready to cut back.  

AmNews: Could you speak to some of the discriminatory issues around smoking?

We actually have a report that we published last year called Addressing New York City Smoking Inequities, and one of the pieces of data that we showed there is that retail density of tobacco retailers is higher in neighborhoods that have higher poverty levels. If there’s a higher density of tobacco retailers, it means that people are interacting with those stores more often, so if you’re already smoking, that may make it harder to stop and it also may promote youth initiation. 

AmNews: November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and September 25 every year is World Lung Day. Why are events like this important? 

I think it is helpful because it offers an opportunity for a lot of different people to be speaking about the same issue at the same time. We can put together messages and specific resources, or materials we can share with everyone.  
For additional resources about tobacco awareness and smoking cessation, visit https://www.nyc.gov/site/doh/about/press/pr2023/free-help-to-quit-smoking-media-campaign.page as well as https://www.health.ny.gov/prevention/tobacco_control/campaign/quit_smoking/quit.htm and https://www.nyc.gov/site/doh/health/health-topics/smoking-nyc-quits.page.

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