New York Takes the Wrong Approach to Tobacco | Citizens Against Government Waste

New York Takes the Wrong Approach to Tobacco

The WasteWatcher

Legislation supported by Governor Kathy Hochul (D), S. 4007 and A3007, would ban all flavored tobacco products in New York, and end the sale of menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, flavored cigarillos, and smokeless tobacco.  The governor is so much in favor of this idea that she included it in her state budget.   The proposed ban on flavored tobacco products is an expansion of the flavor ban on e-cigarettes. 

New York already has the highest tobacco taxes in the nation, and now could raise then even higher.  S. 2425 and A86 would increase the tax on certain tobacco products from 75 percent to 129 percent and increase the tax imposed on the retail sale of vapor products from 20 percent to 45 percent.  The proposed legislation, including an excise tax increase on tobacco products, is intended to deter the behavior of traditional cigarette use.  Yet, the same flawed logic is applied not only to burn tobacco products, but also to tobacco harm reduction (THR) products that help smokers quit.  The policy is illogical, and the excise taxes, also known as sin taxes, are regressive and disproportionately hurt poor and low-income individuals.  

Despite claims that menthol cigarettes significantly impact younger and underaged smokers, youth smoking is at historic lows.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a significant reduction in young smokers.  There were 1.73 million, or 28 percent, fewer youth tobacco users in 2020 (4.47 million) than in 2019 (6.20 million). 

The New York Association of Convenience Stores commented on the bills by stating, “Prohibition will have no impact on smoking rates but will instead hurt small retailers and drive consumers to nearby states, Native Reservations, and the thriving underground market … It is additionally disingenuous for the state to propose banning flavored tobacco while publicly touting the sale of grapefruit, pineapple, and tropical cannabis vaping products.”  The group also says the banning of these products would affect job growth.  International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 810 President Mike Smith said that the ban will cause a loss of nearly 500 jobs out of 4,000 drivers, warehouse workers and salespeople represented by his union.

Making a product illegal and raising taxes to excessive levels will fail to reduce demand and instead put smokers at increased risk for illicit cigarette sales.  It also increases illegal smuggling.  New York is already the poster child for a state with a thriving black market for tobacco sales.  The state loses nearly $2 billion a year due to untaxed tobacco sales in 2015, and that was five years prior to the ban on flavored tobacco products enacted in 2020.  If smokers can’t purchase the products they want in a regulated market, they will either go across state lines or to the black market to find the product they want. 

Worldwide efforts to transition smokers away from traditional cigarettes to less harmful alternatives like e-cigarettes are a better solution than implementing high taxes and all-out bans that lead to unregulated and unsafe black markets.  Any legislation making less dangerous alternatives to traditional smoking more expensive will not improve public health or safety and should not be enacted by the legislature.