Smoking banned at N.Y. addiction recovery centers

ALBANY, N.Y. — Many drug addicts, problem gamblers and alcoholics may find it harder to kick their habits in New York now that the state has become the first in the country to ban smoking at all recovery centers.

Some addicts say losing the tobacco crutch could keep them from getting clean and sober, or from trying at all.

New York’s 13 state-run addiction treatment centers have been tobacco-free for more than 10 years. New regulations that take effect today will also apply to private treatment centers. Some are worried that people who need help for drugs and alcohol won’t pursue it because they aren’t ready to quit smoking.

Bryan Lapsker, a 21-year-old PCP addict from Brooklyn who has been getting help for his addiction at a treatment center in Queens for nearly nine months, has been dreading the change every day.

“Nicotine helps (addicts) get through the day,” he said. “Now you take the nicotine away from us, it’s almost impossible to get through the day … addiction is addiction, I understand that, but nicotine is a legal substance.”

Legal or not, state officials behind the new rules believe banning tobacco is critical to successful treatment programs.

“Oftentimes smoking was given as a reward in the day-to-day treatment programs, and we need to make sure that we’re changing the culture to really promote an overall recovery plan that involves health and wellness for the optimal chance for recovery,” said Karen Carpenter-Palumbo, the commissioner of the New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

About one in five New Yorkers smoke, compared with nine in 10 chemically dependent New Yorkers, she said.

Addicts are more likely to have long-term success if they quit smoking at the same time they enter treatment, Carpenter-Palumbo said.

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