NEW YORK – The city's newly redesigned official condom is a "sensation," according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, which announced Wednesday that City Hall gave away a record 5 million in the first month of a distribution program.
The free condom initiative is part of the city's effort to reduce rates of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. More than 100,000 of New York's 8.2 million residents have HIV or AIDS, and there are many new diagnoses each year.
The city has made free condoms available for years, but it recently decided to revamp the package design to make it distinct, both to encourage usage and to help track effectiveness. The new wrapper is stamped with the letters "NYC CONDOM" in the same font and bright colors used on city subway maps and signs.
Before the condom wrapper was redesigned, the city typically gave away 1.5 million condoms monthly.
"The NYC Condom is a sensation," Department of Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said in a statement. "Hundreds of community organizations are signing up to give out free condoms, many for the first time."
After the new condom's unveiling on Feb. 14, the city saw a surge in hits to its Web site and sent new condoms to establishments ranging from AIDS advocacy groups to hair salons, clothing stores, nightclubs, coffeehouses and restaurants. The numbers are now leveling off but are still substantially higher than before, city officials said.
Not all of those establishments ordered the condoms, however. When contacted by The Associated Press, some said they were asked by the health department to carry the prophylactics and were happy to do so. About 1 million of the 5 million condoms were part of that initiative.
That's how condoms ended up at Monster Sushi, a popular eatery with three Manhattan locations. But regardless of how the condoms got there, customers "love it," according to On Le, one of the owners. The basket near the entrance has to be refilled constantly, he said.
"Every time we put them out, we turn around and they're gone," he said.
Any city outfit can order free condoms from the Web site nyccondom.org, which also provides a list of some of those places so that people can get the prophylactics.
The health department said it has noticed a few instances of people trying to sell them on an auction Web site and each time has asked the site's administrators to take down the listing.
The condom campaign was not embraced by all. Following the launch of the new design, New York's top Roman Catholic leaders sharply criticized the Bloomberg administration, saying it was promoting promiscuity and degrading societal standards.
Cardinal Edward Egan, head of the Archdiocese of New York, and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, of Brooklyn, released a joint statement rebuking City Hall leaders and saying the program is "tragic and misguided."
The Roman Catholic Church bans artificial birth control, and preaches abstinence before marriage and fidelity among married couples as a way of combating the spread of diseases.
"Our political leaders fail to protect the moral tone of our community when they encourage inappropriate sexual activity by blanketing our neighborhoods with condoms," their statement said.
A day later, Bloomberg defended the initiative, saying it was not an issue of faith but a "real world" solution to a health crisis.