Why do people in New York City smoke so much?

by on October 31, 2006 at 7:20 pm in Economics | Permalink

I was up in NYC for only a few hours, but it struck me once again.  Manhattanites smoke much more than the people in northern Virginia.  I can imagine a few hypotheses:

1. Social networkers head to Manhattan, and social networkers smoke.

2. In Manhattan it is more important to signal you are cool. 

3. Air pollution is higher, so the marginal health cost of smoking is less.

4. New York is colder, and that makes cigarettes more enjoyable.

5. The "artsy" variable is doing most of the work; of course this is related to #1 and #2.

6. NYC life is more stressful, and smoking calms some of these people down.

7. Many of them are poseurs, and these smokers don’t have such valuable human capital.

I’d bet first on #2, and also on #7, but I don’t have a good theory that will explain the rest of the cross-sectional evidence.

triticale October 31, 2006 at 7:30 pm

#3 is erroneous. There is evidence that cigarette smoke in combination with air pollution multiplies the health risks. My understanding is that Australians and South Africans smoke more than USians yet have less lung cancer.

ASB October 31, 2006 at 7:50 pm

Missing from your list:
(8) Smoking allows people to take breaks in offices without signalling shirking. There is greater fear of shirking and supposition of shirking inNew York for cultural reasons.

(9) Because New York is denser and higher volume the perception of number of smokers is inflated. This both effects your measurement, butit also encourages more smoking on the margin.

Lev October 31, 2006 at 8:16 pm

My guess is similar to #9. A big Manhattan office building holds thousands of people, while sidewalk space is very much limited. This creates the illusion that more people are smoking, but says little about the rate. All the non-smokers are busy in their offices. Or, you know, commenting on MR.

Bill Stepp October 31, 2006 at 8:54 pm

Smoking is the opposite of cool; in fact it’s filthy and disgusting.
#9 above is right on the money. Most smoking outside the home in Manhattan
is done on streets, which increases makes it seem that a higher percentage
of the population smokes than is really the case.
At the opposite end of the health spectrum, take a look at all the fitness
clubs in Manhattan and joggers on the streets.
I doubt these folks smoke.
There are more in Central Park and along
the paths running next to the Hudson on the west (where I jog) and the East River on
the east, but there are lots on the streets even near the center.

liberty October 31, 2006 at 9:04 pm

i like Barry’s answer. i think he is a nyer.

Brandon Erik Bertelsen October 31, 2006 at 9:10 pm

#1 Is a hint at why people continue to smoke, rather than why they “do” smoke. I can’t even count the number of people I’ve made connections with sharing my digusting habit.

#6 On point, and being a smoker, I think the one advantage I have over the non-smoking populace is the social or individual break in my workday activities that allows me a moment to collect my thoughts or just break my concentration and give room for a different perspective.

Sean October 31, 2006 at 10:05 pm

KipEsquire stole mine.

JewishAtheist October 31, 2006 at 10:37 pm

3. Air pollution is higher, so the marginal health cost of smoking is less.

LOL. Only an economist.

Tom T. October 31, 2006 at 10:50 pm

Baltimore also anecdotally appears to have a lot more smokers than Washington. I suspect that it falls more in the Pittsburgh category than with Manhattan.

Ray G. November 1, 2006 at 12:38 am

New Yorkers are self-centered and shallow and so the quick pleasure of a good nicotine fix outweighs just about everything else.

And for the colder hypthesis; only a smoker or ex-smoker knows those kinds of things. I always enjoyed a cigarette more when it was cold out.

guilty November 1, 2006 at 12:51 am

Um, there’s no difference in smoking rates between Virginia and New York. About 20% current smokers in each state.

dearieme November 1, 2006 at 5:10 am

They are already so objectionable that stinking of cigarette smoke makes little difference?

Jason November 1, 2006 at 9:00 am

People in NOVA smoke in their cars, people in NYC smoke on the street

asiequana November 1, 2006 at 10:01 am

There is no smoking allowed in bars, restaurants, near building entrances, etc in NYC. A lot of commentors here seem to be unaware of this. As others have made mention everything NYer’s do is more visible because more time is spent outside the home and in public view.

As far as New Yorkers being self-centered and shallow vs elsewhere, I come from a small farming community of 7,000 in Northern Wisconsin. I have also lived in suburban Chicago, Southwest Michigan and Northwestern Tennessesse at some point in my life. I have lived in the NYC area for 8 years now and actually find the exact opposite to be true.

mike November 1, 2006 at 2:24 pm

Semi-related side note. In my experience NOVA is at the southern tip of NYC influence. Many NOVA people look for culture and fashion trends from NY. People will brag about visiting the city over the weekend, talk about how much cooler NYC is, etc, etc. By the time you get to Richmond you’ve entered the South and people don’t give a damn about NYC. By the time you are in the Carolinas, New York is in another universe and the Southern Belle aesthetic is dominant. (And I’m mainly comparing college educated 20-somethings.)

One simple measure I’ve noticed is the prevalence of dyed-blonde hair on women. Seems to pick up markedly once you get south of NOVA (and really just into the outer suburbs). This might be more a result of the changing ethnic patterns. The higher percentage of Asian women with dark hair in the northeast limits the pool of potential peroxide users — although I’ve know Asian girls raised in the South who worked damn hard to achieve the Southern Belle look.

NOVA really is interesting as a crossroads of two powerful cultural poles in American society.

J November 1, 2006 at 4:41 pm

I’d go with high population density and high percentage of immigrants who smoke.

With respect to point 2, I hate to reveal how sheltered my life is, but is there a cohort in American society that still regards smoking as cool?

DaveLaw November 1, 2006 at 5:41 pm

Long time reader, first time poster. I have to admit, I expect better analysis of you, Tyler.

I add my agreement to the perception issue. NYC’ers live in small apartments with no windows, do not have cars, and are not allowed to smoke in bars. The ratio of smoking on the street to smoking in private is higher in NYC than elsewhere, and when you combine that with the general exposure to the mass of humanity contained on a NYC sidewalk, it is easy to believe that a greater percentage of NYC’ers smoke.

Here you go: hard data. Fewer NYC’ers smoke(18.6% in 2002) than NY state residents exclusive of NYC (24.3%):

http://www.health.state.ny.us/nysdoh/tobacco/reports/brfss2002.htm

The following site contains state data of smokers for 2004. It lists NY at 21.6%, and Virginia at 22%. Since the NYC number is lower than the NY state number, presumably the NYC number is lower than even the 21.6%. I can’t find a breakdown for “Northern VA” vs. the rest of the state, but either way, a cursory review shows that there is probably less smokers in NYC than VA, and there is certainly not a difference discernible through casual observation.

http://www.unitedhealthfoundation.org/shr2004/components/smoking.html

My two cents.

Trieu Truong November 1, 2006 at 8:16 pm

Offsetting the “population density” effect noted above is the much higher tax rate on cigarettes in NYC. There’s a $3 tax on each pack of cigarettes in Gotham. This is 10 times the tax rate on cigarettes in VA (I think). It’s not unusual to have to pay $10 to buy a pack of smokes in Manhattan. There’d be even more smoking in NYC otherwise.

Robert S November 1, 2006 at 9:47 pm

I think that since people are not allowed to smoke inside is the reason that you see more smokers outside on the street. If you were to judge the people in my dorm by just those you saw outside you would probably end up coming to the conclusion that most people here are smokers. In a place like New York where there are a lot of people and they must smoke outside, it would make sense that a lot of them seem to smoke. I bet that if you were to compare the number of people inside the office buildings who weren’t smoking with those outside that were, you would probably find the numbers to be close to being the same.

wbg November 1, 2006 at 10:01 pm

I think that because Manhattan is so busy and demanding that people need something to do at all times. During breaks at work they choose not to sit around and relax but opt to go out to the sidewalk and smoke. The price could go even higher than $10 per pack and you still would not see a noticeable decrease in smokers.

Antoine Bideau November 1, 2006 at 10:55 pm

I think what you wrotte is totally pointless. The only good argument that you have is number 6.
Ofcourse you guys are going to think that people smoke more in New York than in virginia. It’s NYC one of the biggest city on hearth people there do more of everything than little virginia..

Anthony November 2, 2006 at 1:29 am

Availability bias. Once you start seeing it, it’s everywhere.

Jacob Benson November 2, 2006 at 9:34 pm

I think that people in New york smoke for the same reason everyone else smokes they try it from a friend or their depression drives them to need an outlet and ciggerettes seem to be the temporary fix in which they become dependant of them therefore becoming addicted to the disgusting habit.

Robbie January 11, 2008 at 3:29 pm

What a load of bollocks.

jonjon June 19, 2008 at 7:02 am

wow what a bunch of retards

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