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N.Y. to Put Its Stamp on Condom Giveaway

February 15, 2006|Ellen Barry | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — An announcement that the city's health department plans to develop a "memorable" wrapper for its free condoms had New Yorkers dreaming Tuesday about the possibilities: little subway maps, for instance, or a classic "I {heart} New York," or the noble visage of Lady Liberty.

The city has been distributing 1 million condoms a month since June 2005, when Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden kicked off the Free Condom Initiative to try to stop the spread of AIDS and other diseases.

But there has been no way for clinicians to monitor who is using the generically packaged condoms, and therefore no way to gauge the program's effectiveness. The new packaging, which should be available within six months, will help the city keep track.

"We wanted to develop condom packaging that was noticeable and memorable so that we can later track the effectiveness of our distribution. We also aim to use the packaging to promote condom use and awareness," health department spokeswoman Sandra Mullin said in a news release.

Adam Glickman, founder of the condom shop Condomania, called the plan brilliant, and said a New York-themed logo would almost certainly draw interest. Customers in his Bleecker Street business -- tourists, especially from Europe -- frequently request New York condoms.

"New York is a very sexy place," Glickman said. "It's sort of a dirty, sexy, fast-paced place. It's a natural on a condom."

Appealing packaging can reduce self-consciousness about carrying condoms, he said.

"A charming condom can affect behavior," Glickman said. "More people may end up using a charming condom than an ordinary prophylactic."

The idea of promoting free condoms with New York wrappers was less amusing to the Rev. Bill Banuchi, executive director of the state's Christian Coalition.

"To bring New York City to such an obscene level -- it's absurd," he said.

Although death rates from AIDS have fallen, New Yorkers continue to become infected at alarming rates, according to statistics released this month by the health department. Heterosexual sex has become the most common means of transmission.

More than 95,000 New York City residents have AIDS, and city epidemiologists estimate that 10,000 more are infected with HIV and don't know it.

Frieden has called for a change in state law that would allow doctors to encourage people to undergo AIDS tests, and to allow health workers to offer services to people who have tested positive.

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