Smoker Numbers Rise, but Mayor Lauds Other City Statistics

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The New York Sun

The proportion of adult New Yorkers who smoke rose slightly last year, halting a five-year decline since Mayor Bloomberg took office and made stamping out cigarette use a top priority.

The percentage of smokers was 18.9% in 2005, an uptick of half a point from the previous year, according to data in the annual mayor’s management report released yesterday.

When Mr. Bloomberg arrived at City Hall in 2002, the percentage had hovered above 21.5% for a decade. Taking aim at smokers, the mayor fought for steep increases in cigarette taxes and a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, and he launched an aggressive anti-smoking campaign featuring print and television ads.

The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the increase was not significant and blamed persistent advertising from the tobacco industry.

Despite the small increase, the mayor’s report indicated that overall municipal services are improving citywide.

There were a few other hiccups, however.

While major felonies dropped for the 15th year in a row, murders rose by 5% following a record low in fiscal year 2005.

In the schools, class sizes decreased, but so did student attendance, by a small margin.

In one of the most jarring reversals, recycling dropped by 20% after increasing for each of the previous two years. The Department of Sanitation attributed the decline primarily to a decrease in newspaper circulation. Because fewer people subscribe to newspapers, it reasoned, there was less to pick up at the curb.

That explanation raised eyebrows with the newspaper industry, where the drop in circulation has been steady but not sudden. “There’s something else going on there,” the president of the New York Newspaper Publishers Association, Diane Kennedy, said. “The 8 million people in New York would all have had to get together and stop recycling newspapers.”

A spokesman for the Sanitation Department, Matthew LiPani, said that aside from the circulation issue, “City residents aren’t recycling, on a whole, as they should be.”

The report also reflected a steady rise in New Yorkers turning to 311 to register complaints. The city helpline received more than 14 million calls, an increase of 14% from the previous year. Calls peaked during the transit strike in December, when New Yorkers dialed 311 more than 700,000 times.

Officials attributed a 16% rise in complaints to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates allegations of police misconduct, to the ease of using 311. A spokesman for the police department, Paul Browne, pointed to data showing that less than 4% of the calls were substantiated, a decrease from 2004.

Mr. Browne also said the slight rise in murders was a result of 25 shootings from prior years having been reclassified as homicides. That was twice as many as the year before, he said. Otherwise, the murder rate would have reached a new low.

The report also reflected the city’s response to alarming data from previous years, such as a spike in rat complaints. The number of complaints leveled off after spiking 9% between 2004 and 2005. But the health department allowed more of the rodents to live, as exterminations dropped by nearly 40%. Officials said the department had revised its strategy to one that focuses on problem areas and “emphasizes more judicious use of pesticides.”

After nearly doubling over four years, the rate of syphilis dropped by 9% last year, a result, the department said, of more targeted outreach and awareness efforts.

The city also improved its response times to fires in the second half of the year. The average response time rose by one second for the year, but it dropped by nine seconds in the last six months.

Mr. Bloomberg lauded the results yesterday, saying a majority of the data reflected improvement. “Compared to last year and compared to five years ago, we’re going in the right direction,” he said.

The New York Sun

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