ALBANY — New York becomes the first state in the nation to ban smoking in substance abuse treatment centers Wednesday, which is also the fifth anniversary of the Clean Indoor Air act that banned smoking in restaurants and workplaces. 

Studies have shown that up to 50 percent of the chemically addicted will die of a tobacco-related disease,” said Karen Carpenter-Palumbo, commissioner of the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. “That’s an incredible number and we need to address it.”

Treatment centers had a year to extinguish smoking on their campuses and today marks the beginning of the ban, though centers have a six-month grace period before smoking affects their recertification.

About 70 percent of the 1,550 state-certified treatment programs are already smoke-free, according to OASAS.

But critics worry that the ban will prevent people from seeking treatment.

“We need to do everything we can to encourage people to go into drug treatment,” said Tony Newman, media director at the Drug Policy Alliance, a national group based in New York City. “The last thing we want to do is set up barriers.”

Newman agrees that smoking is harmful, but tobacco is legal and it helps some people get through the difficult processes of ending a drug addiction.

“People have crutches for dealing with their lives from substances like cigarettes to food issues to shopping issues,” he said. “We want to help people, but let’s be careful not to point fingers at people for their `deviant’ behaviors. A lot of us have to do things that aren’t the most helpful things but we should get compassion and help.”

While 18 percent of New Yorkers smoke, 92 percent of drug and alcohol addicts smoke.

The state provided $8 million to fund cessation program and nicotine replacement therapy for addicts who smoke.

“We’ll be saving lives and we’ll improve the recovery rates of those we serve,” she said.

By CATHLEEN F. CROWLEY, Staff writer   
Last updated: 5:32 p.m., Wednesday, July 23, 2008

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