2020: A Year in Review

A Year of Progress…

For many people around the world, 2020 was a very difficult year – New York City was no exception. Despite the life changing adjustments we’ve faced as a result of COVID-19, we continue to persevere. Here at NYC Smoke-Free, that means continuing to raise awareness of health disparities from the lens of tobacco control. The connection of tobacco use and higher risk of complications of COVID are real. Now more than ever we must continue to push forward with our mission in ensuring every New Yorker’s right to breathe clean, safer and smoke-free air. Here is a look back:

Youth Engagement

Youth-led advocacy through our Reality Check program was a central part of our focus and community education. Despite the reality of virtual meeting/learning fatigue, our youth leaders were as engaged as ever. They presented at several Community Board meetings, public convenings and organized film screenings that highlighted the negative effects of menthol and how tobacco companies have systematically targeted the black community over the last 30 years with menthol tobacco products. Reality Check students from Staten Island also created a video for World No Tobacco Day highlighting this year’s theme – Big Tobacco Exposed.

Additionally, we collaborated with Columbia University’s Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center in an entirely youth-led webinar of the dangerous effects of tobacco use. It was quite successful and had over 100 people in attendance. Very recently, a few of your youth were invited to be guest panelists at the Vaping Unveiled Round-Table which was moderated by Dr. Alia Komsany Ph.D. of Cornell University’s Meyer Cancer Center along with NYC Smoke-Free Director, Deidre Sully. It represented another impactful avenue to educate the community and give further insight into the pressures many youth face to try out dangerous vaping products, especially due to tobacco company advertising.

Youth-Led Webinar with Columbia University’s HICCC, Summer 2020


In November, we launched the our new tweet chat series, Clear The Air, which allows us to continue the dialogue and engage with the community in a creative and interactive way. Clear The Air is truly a space to engage partners (and newcomers) to share crucial information and facts about tobacco use and nicotine addiction.

Building healthy equity continued to be a top priority for us in 2020. Our menthol campaign was selected as this year’s Community Outreach winner of Ragan’s PR Daily Award. In partnership with strategic communications firm Group Gordon, we launched a large-scale PR, advertising and marketing campaign to deter use of menthol cigarettes and vapes, notably among the black communities and youth.

Our Impact

The entire experience of COVID -19 has brought into sharp focus the health impact of breathing shared air in multi-unit housing and public spaces. To date, we have assisted property owners and managers adopt over 147 policies, creating smoke-free protections for over 19K apartment units impacting over 50K NYC residents.

While New Yorkers continue to spend more time than ever before at home, some residents report that they are experiencing an increase in secondhand smoke exposure. We highlighted this reality during the Smoking and COVID webinar that kicked off the inaugural NYC No Tobacco Week hosted by the NYC Cancer Collaborative. Our team was dedicated on working with housing buildings to expand or adopt smoke-free policies and living options across the City. It was also imperative to highlight the need for smoke-free outdoor air at the initial re-opening of businesses to help protect employees and the general public.

…We Still Have Work To Do

Despite the success we have had, there are still significant disparities in smoking and secondhand smoke exposure that continue to exist. Dangerous products continue to flood the market attracting younger people, creating new nicotine addicts along the way. In NYC, 45,000 youth report using e-cigarettes or vaping products.

Another harsh reality is menthol cigarette advertising and availability, which continues to plague African American communities at disproportionate rates. 85% of African American smokers in NYC use menthol cigarettes compared to 22% of White smokers. We must ensure tobacco disparities cease to continue with unmet needs for New Yorkers who are most vulnerable to tobacco addiction and the tobacco industry’s aggressive marketing.  Now is the time to continue on NYC’s progress against tobacco and make additional investments in more comprehensive approaches that can dramatically save lives, increase life expectancy, and improve the health of all New Yorkers.

2021: Looking Ahead

We must recommit ourselves to the work we do to protect the health and wellbeing of ALL New York City families. COVID-19 reminds us that health prevention policies matter greatly. Tobacco use is still a problem in NYC, and has been magnified by pandemic. Exposure to secondhand smoke makes breathing difficult, and is also a significant risk factor for many underlying health conditions linked more severe COVID-19 disease, including heart disease, diminished lung function, and associated risk of respiratory illnesses.  

Thank you to all of NYC Smoke-Free’s community partners, Reality Check student leaders, dedicated team, and many more for your support and efforts to help end the tobacco epidemic. We are grateful for your continued support and activism. This holiday season, we would like to spread a message of hope for New Yorkers who wish to rid their lives of tobacco smoke and send wishes for a New Year that allows everyone to breathe clean, smoke-free air.


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