Cruise appeared Thursday at a private dinner in Manhattan to raise money for the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project, a program he co-founded in 2002. His wife, Katie Holmes, was accompanied him.
"He said how grateful he was to everyone for supporting the project," said Patrick Bahnken, president of the New York Fire Department's union of emergency workers and paramedics, told the New York Post. "He took time out to speak to every person. It took him an hour to get through the hallway. He was talking to everyone. It was genuine, nothing phony about it."
The press was barred from the event. Tickets cost $6,250 each.
The program, based on principles developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, offers free treatment to emergency workers who suffer breathing difficulties and other health problems stemming from exposure to toxins at ground zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"Nearly six years later, many are still paying a price for their heroic service at the World Trade Center. This is a profound injustice," the 44-year-old actor said in a statement to The Associated Press before the dinner. "This project has demonstrated that recovery is not only possible, but an incontrovertible fact."
The program has treated 785 workers since its inception, said director Jim Woodworth. Each worker is given vitamins and nutritional counseling and participates in daily exercise and sauna sessions. The program takes about 30 days to complete, he said.
Bahnken said there was some initial concern the program would include proselytizing and religious rhetoric. But the program is secular and results have been positive, he said.
Scientology is "not science, and we should only fund those programs that reputable scientists believe will stand the light of day," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday.
Councilman Joseph Addabbo, who attended the fund-raiser, disagrees. "The project seems to work. I've seen it firsthand," he told the Post.
New York City officials say some 400,000 people were exposed to ground zero dust and 71,000 have enrolled in a long-term health monitoring program for people with and without health problems. Most experts believe there are thousands of people still sick years after ground zero exposure.