NYC moves to raise cost of cigarettes to nation's highest

NEW YORK — It already is the city that never sleeps — and if Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way it will become the city that never smokes.

De Blasio on Wednesday announced a package of proposed bills that would, among other things, raise the base price of a pack of cigarettes from $10.50 to $13, making New York home to the costliest cigarettes in the country. If the legislation passes, it would join an ongoing campaign by the city to get smokers to quit — a campaign that includes a series of jarring public service announcements that show people dealing with amputations, life with no voicebox, or the last stages of life due to cigarette damage..

De Blasio made the announcement at an anti-smoking event Wednesday.

"When it comes to New Yorkers' health, big tobacco is public enemy number one," the mayor said. "Today, we are taking a stand against these companies to not only reduce smoking and tobacco usage in New York City, but also save lives.”

The five-pronged package of proposed bills would:

• Raise the minimum price for all tobacco products.

• Reduce through attrition the number of tobacco retailers.

• Create a retail license for e-cigarettes and cap the number of sellers.

• Require all residential buildings to create a smoking policy and disclose it to current and would-be tenants.

• Ban sales at pharmacies.

The goal of the program would be to reduce the city's more than 900,000 smokers by 160,000 over the next three years. The bills will be reviewed by the City Council's Health Committee on April 27.

But the move also drew attention to another issue in the city — sales of bootleg cigarettes from other states that allow smokers in New York to bypass taxes and buy cigarettes for as little as $7 or $8 a pack. New York State leads the nation when it comes to cigarette smuggling and 55.5% of cigarettes smoked in the state in 2014 came from smuggled sources, according to a study published in January by the non-profit Tax Foundation.

"We resent the fact that the administration and the City Council are trying to attack law-abiding retailers when the real problem is on the streets," said James Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores.

"This whole package of bills is misdirected at licensed, responsible retailers of tobacco products," said Calvin, whose group headquartered in the state capital of Albany has 1,600 members. "The biggest challenge facing New York City is a pervasive black market cigarette epidemic. That’s where kids get cigarettes. That’s where hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers get untaxed cigarettes every day out on the street from black marketers and bootleggers who undercut licensed taxed retailers like the ones we represent."

Smokers stopped on the street Wednesday bore that out. None of four people interviewed said they purchase full-price legal cigarettes as it is.

Cheyenne Alexander of the Bronx said she wasn't concerned about the mayor's initiative because she is going to quit smoking, but added that she pays $8 a pack for cigarettes. "They have these places," said Alexander, 33.

Jacob Jacobson, who was smoking a cigarette on Lexington Avenue, said he commutes from the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania and buys his cigarettes there for about $8 a pack. But he said smoking is addictive and it's going to take more than a higher price to make smokers quit.

"It could be $50 and people are still going to smoke," said Jacobson, 50.

Syed Alamgir Hashan, who works at the BJ Newspapers store, agreed.

"I think the price is high but people who smoke are going to smoke," Hashan said.

A spokesman at Altria Group, the Richmond, Va.-based parent company to cigarette maker Philip Morris, said it is reviewing the proposal.

USA Today


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