WNYC: City Launches Coordinated Effort to Serve LGBTQ Youth

September 19, 2017

September 19, 2017

New York City is creating a multi-agency project in hopes of better coordinating — and expanding — existing services for LGBTQ youth. The effort includes a focus on health programs, homeless services, suicide prevention and added supports in the public schools.

First Lady Chirlane McCray launched the initiative Tuesday, which city officials are calling NYC Unity, by calling awareness to the specific needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning or queer youth. These young people are vulnerable to violence, bullying, homelessness and mental health issues, she said.

“To all of our city’s LGBTQ young people — especially those just discovering their sexuality or identity, or those feeling isolated and afraid — take it from me, you are not alone,” she said. “You are wonderful and New York City will always have your back.”

Speaking from the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan, McCray invoked her own personal story of being part of New York City’s LGBT community in the late 1970s. She found support and encouragement from friends, though not necessarily from political leaders, she said.

Others on the podium also spoke about the city’s progress and the growing political embrace of LGBTQ rights — as if they were elder LGBTQ statesmen and women passing on wisdom to the next generation.

City councilman Danny Dromm, a former teacher who chairs the education committee, said he came out as an openly gay teacher in 1992 in the very room in which NYC Unity was announced. Councilman Corey Johnson recalled that Act Up, a group which fought to call attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis, was founded in the same room as well.

“Activists were coming and plotting on how to infiltrate the health commissioner’s office at the height of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, because we weren’t getting a response,” said Johnson. “And now we have the health commissioner sitting here in the room talking about how to change the Department of Health to be more responsive.”

The city will invest $4.8 million in NYC Unity, which will include opening a new 24-hour drop-in center specifically for LGBTQ youth in Jamaica, Queens. The center is slated to open next month.

The city currently has one other 24 hour drop-in center for LGBTQ young people. It’s in Harlem.

Other initiatives include expanding mental health and suicide prevention services; training health professionals; and convening a summit of more than 100 faith leaders this winter.


CHELSEA NOW: Chelsea Answers Cruelty With Caring: Recollections of the Bombing

September 13, 2017

September 13, 2017

The night of September 17, 2016 will forever be seared into my memory. It was a night in which the world’s attention was focused on a relatively inconspicuous block in Chelsea, and our community was tested like never before. It was a night when our community narrowly avoided a potentially devastating loss of life.

It was pleasant mid-September Saturday night; the kind of night that reminds you that summer doesn’t truly end on Labor Day. After having dinner with a friend at Trestle on 10th Ave., I began walking east on W. 23rd St. When I reached Ninth Ave., the night’s quiet was shattered by a deafening sound: BOOM! The ground shook under my feet as I and those around me stopped in our tracks. We exchanged knowing looks. It was clear that we shared the same initial thought: terrorism.

Though I couldn’t see the source, the explosion had come from the east. I instinctively walked in that direction as I called Deputy Inspector Brendan Timoney of the NYPD’s 13th Precinct. He was already aware of the incident and en route to the scene.

At W. 23rd St. and Seventh Ave., emergency responders were already on site and the NYPD had begun to cordon off the block. Within minutes, a large police, fire, and EMT presence occupied the neighborhood. The intersection was thick with emergency vehicles and a growing crowd of concerned onlookers were assembling on the street corners.

The explosion had occurred within a construction dumpster immediately in front of VISIONS at Selis Manor/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, on the north side of W. 23rd St., between Sixth and Seventh Aves. The NYPD was fairly certain early on that the explosion was man-made. I remember that only a truly sick individual would intentionally target this population. It was also puzzling: This location makes little sense as a target for terrorism. A midblock dumpster on a street with moderate pedestrian traffic in a partially residential area didn’t seem to make sense. This wasn’t a landmark or tourist destination. This wasn’t Times Square or the World Trade Center. It was just a regular New York City street.

A tremendous feeling of relief swept over us when we learned that there were no initial reports of casualties. But we knew that this could change, and prayed that it wouldn’t. The police continued to widen the secure area surrounding the site of the attack. Bystanders were ushered toward W. 22nd and 24th Sts. Patrons of nearby sidewalk cafes on the avenues were asked to leave the restaurants immediately. Firmly in control of the scene, it was clear that the NYPD’s extensive training for this type of situation had prepared them for a well-executed response.

A sobering sight was a unit of heavily armed antiterrorism forces in body armor with what appeared to be automatic weapons. It made me cognizant of the nightmare scenario for which they were prepared.

FDNY Chaplain Reverend Stephen Harding, who is also pastor at St. Peter’s Church in Chelsea, arrived at the scene. I was struck by the realization that he was on site to potentially deliver last rites. Nonetheless, his presence was indeed comforting amidst the very tense scene.

One of my most important functions as a City Councilmember is to help disseminate important information to the public. I tweeted what I knew as information became available. My cell phone rang with NY1, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets seeking accurate and up-to-date information from the site. The surrounding subway stations were evacuated and service was suspended. Residents were asked to remain clear of the area. Residents of the affected block were asked to shelter in place. The number of those injured would eventually climb to 31. Thankfully and remarkably, none of these injuries were grievous and there were no reported fatalities.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblymember Dick Gottfried and I connected with the Mayor’s staff within a secure area in the intersection. The Mayor and Police Commissioner O’Neill, who had just been sworn into his new role two days before, were on their way.

When the Mayor and Police Commissioner arrived, my colleagues and I were all escorted onto W. 23rd St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. and from a distance we witnessed the mangled remains of the dumpster and the damaged building facades for the first time. The world’s press corps had converged on this one spot to hear from the Mayor and Police Commissioner and a host of Homeland Security officials; people who knew more about what had happened than perhaps anyone.

It was around this time that news of a secondary device in Chelsea began trickling in. As we had learned from 9/11, misinformation abounds in the chaos following an attack. But officials soon confirmed that a suspicious device had been discovered on W. 27th St., between Sixth and Seventh Aves. Residents of the block were told to shelter in place while the bomb squad investigated.

We would later learn that an undetonated explosive device had indeed been spotted by a vigilant Chelsea resident named Jane Schreibman, who saw a strange object on her block and reported it. It would turn out to be an improvised device that was abandoned by the terrorist. Reports of undetonated devices at NJ Transit stations in New Jersey would also prove to be true. Again, the loss of life could have been devastating had this plan been carried out as intended.

Night became day as hints of the sun crept over the rooftops to the east. The following hours and days blurred together as I sought to assure and provide information to my constituents and assist the residents and small businesses directly affected by the bombing. We did what we could to help the community bounce back. The following weekend, my staff and I organized a Small Business Crawl on W. 23rd St. Hundreds of New Yorkers came out to patronize businesses that were either damaged by the bombing or closed in its aftermath.

What I remember most from that time after the bombing, however, are the ways in which New Yorkers rose up to support and protect one another. The Malibu Diner, for example, served free, hot meals to the residents of Selis Manor when they couldn’t use their own facilities. It was an honor to present the Malibu Diner with a City Council Proclamation the following week at City Hall.

Even now, I become emotional when I remember scores of New Yorkers running toward, not away from, the sound of the blast, in case there was some way they could help.

The lowest moments and cruelest acts of humanity also inspire the greatest and most incredible acts of love and caring. We’ve seen that in the aftermath of the devastating hurricanes in Texas and Florida. We saw it in the days and weeks after September 11, 2001. And we certainly saw it last year in Chelsea.


Chelsea Now: One Year Later, Renewal and Awareness at The Heart of the Blast

September 13, 2017

September 13, 2017

Words on the Council of the City of New York Proclamation, framed and hanging near the front door of the Malibu Diner, honor the character and service of everyone there, and eloquently recall Sept. 17, 2016: “It began as a beautiful September day, not so different from a Tuesday in September 15 years ago, with New Yorkers of every age and background simply going about their lives,” the Proclamation reads, continuing, “In an instant, however, the beauty of the day was shattered… Around 8:30pm, on West 32rd Street in Manhattan, a homemade bomb exploded in a dumpster, injuring 31 people, including two dozen taken to the hospital, and terrifying almost everyone who heard it.”

A year later, commerce on W. 23rd St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. is as normal as ever. With the exception of boarded up windows on two unoccupied buildings, the boulevard shows no signs of the explosion that propelled shrapnel into concrete, bricks, cars, and people, and blew out storefronts and windows. Yet on this anniversary of the blast, aftereffects range from on one hand, a stronger sense of community, a positive awareness of shared resilience, to on the other hand, personal anxiety issues.

The explosion, which within two days was identified as the alleged terrorist act of 28-year-old Ahmad Khan Rahimi, occurred in a dumpster containing debris from an extensive and ongoing renovation of Selis Manor (135 W. 23rd St.), a 14-story building with 205 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, public housing for the blind and visually impaired. The dumpster was located on the eastern end of the building. Fortunately, that Saturday night most of the residents were playing Bingo in the building’s ground floor game room on its western end. Although windows were shattered as high as the fourth floor, no one was injured, at least not outwardly. A resident of Selis Manor, Helen Murphy, 65, remembers the “BABOOM” sound and a friend suggesting maybe it was a gas explosion. While she feels that everyone came together as family and calmed each other during the crisis, “I don’t want to be in crowds anymore. I avoid subways, buses, I get very claustrophobic. Now I take cabs.”

VISIONS at Selis Manor/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a rehabilitation and social service organization offering support and counseling for the tenants of Selis Manor as well as other visually impaired New Yorkers, is on the ground floor of Selis Manor, on the side of the building closer to that dumpster a year ago. Then and now, the organization was less concerned about property damage than it was about the residents.

“Tenants are mixed ages, have been blind for different periods of time, and come from very, very different backgrounds,” explained Nancy D. Miller, LMSW, VISIONS executive director/CEO. “For tenants who had previously had any trauma in their lives, that anxiety and reaction to trauma was brought up again, because in those first few days nobody knew exactly what had happened. They also felt extremely vulnerable since there was so much media coverage of the building. They felt that everybody now knew it was a building for the blind and they would be at increased risk.” Licensed social workers at VISIONS together with social workers from NYC’s Service Program for Older Persons (SPOP) counseled tenants for issues Miller says lingered for about six months following the explosion, “and a few people are in longer-term treatment for anxiety that may not have been caused by the bombing but was exacerbated by the bombing,” she added.

On the practical side, since the blast shut down the elevator at Selis Manor, VISIONS has stocked a greater quantity of emergency supplies for all the apartments. “It’s a lot of water, cereal, packaged milk, diapers, on the main floor,” Miller noted. In the same vein, Joyce Carrico, president, Tenants Association of Selis Manor, has urged tenants to keep canned goods and other rations in their homes. “We’re still trying to get evacuation chairs for people who are wheelchair-bound,” she added. Carrico has been conferring all year with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, and other agencies, to fulfill this critical need, revealed by the explosion.

King David Gallery (131 W. 23rd St.) is a custom interior design provider, gallery, and custom framer. Located next door to Selis Manor, King David today sparkles with samples of its many customized mirrors, glass shower stalls, and artwork framed under glass — looking very different from a year ago, when the explosion blew out the entire storefront and caused a crash of glass from shattered mirrors, stalls, frames, and artwork.

Sarit Peretz, co-owner with other members of her family, vividly recalls the night of the blast when her family was gathered at her mother’s house. “My brother got a phone call from a client who lives down the block, who told him ‘Your store blew up,’ ” she said. Through her phone, she checked the security cameras and saw broken glass everywhere and the police and FBI in the store. “It was like a crime scene,” she recalled, “blood splattered on the mirrors, on the floor. I guess people were hurt outside from the impact of the explosion and were flung into the storefront.”

It took about 10 days for the store to be up and running again, having sustained damages costing well into the six-figure range. Like other businesses along W. 23rd St., King David Gallery turned over its security cameras to the FBI. (As other business owners have noted, these cameras do not get returned so added to the cost of any damage is the purchase of a new security system.) “We come from Israel, not that we’re used to this, but we know what it feels like,” Peretz said. “We had detectives coming in every day, for a whole month, reporters in and out, a press conference was held in front of the store.”

Overall, insurance companies only compensated minimally for loss of business up and down the street. Councilmember Corey Johnson’s office worked with businesses in the aftermath, connecting them with the appropriate city agencies that could help, such as the NY Superintendent of Financial Services (formerly Superintendent of Insurance).

“There was a lot of red tape and bureaucracy and we were making sure businesses were able to reopen as quickly as possible, especially the ones that were immediately next to the blast, like King David,” said Johnson, who was instrumental in organizing the Small Business Crawl of Sat., Sept. 24, 2016, which encouraged New Yorkers to shop on the block of W. 23rd St. that was closed to pedestrian traffic for nearly 48 hours after the bombing. King David Gallery has now signed up for terrorism insurance, which before the blast was an option either unknown or not considered by many Chelsea business owners. The Townhouse Inn of Chelsea (131 W. 23rd St.), a 14-bedroom hotel and the building in which King David Gallery is located, also incurred considerable damages from the explosion. No one at Actium Group, the owner, responded to our requests to talk about the Inn’s recovery.

Across the street from the heart of the blast, Orangetheory Fitness (124 W. 23rd St.) had its storefront windows shattered and destroyed, but the glass storefronts of La Maison du Macaron (132 W. 23rd St.), directly across from Selis Manor, were miraculously untouched. Today it’s business as usual. The owners of Orangetheory Fitness did not want to comment on this anniversary.

Pascal Goupil, owner of La Maison du Macaron, cozy café, macaroon and pastry shop, was not in the shop at the time of the blast but two female employees were behind the counter. “The dumpster was 20 yards from the shop. It could have come straight through and killed everybody. That was lucky,” Goupil recalled. He praised the city agencies for their work in the aftermath, noting, “There were lots of people coming in to see if there was any need. They were fantastic.”

“When it comes to difficult moments, we are united and it helps a lot,” said Alex Grimpas, co-owner of Malibu Diner (163 W. 23rd St.), which became a hub for city agencies and the Red Cross during the three days that the street and other businesses were closed down. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, working with the Red Cross, allowed Malibu to open a day after the blast in order to provide meals for tenants at Selis Manor that the Red Cross delivered, and to continue offering regular breakfasts for tenants who know the number of steps to take from their building to the diner, where they socialize and enjoy a meal outside their apartments. Grimpas reached out to support responders from the FBI, NYPD, FDNY, NY Office of Emergency Management, and American Red Cross, by offering Malibu’s facilities and food.

The Tuesday after the blast, Mayor de Blasio, joined by a number of city officials, visited Malibu and spent 45 minutes in a booth, eating and chatting with Chelsea residents. That affirmation from the Mayor, the Proclamation from the NY City Council, and a plaque of appreciation from the NYPD, are touching and important to Grimpas. “The Proclamation will stay on the wall forever,” he said. “You want to work hard and make money but you have to think about the people who live close to you, to give before you take.”


Fortune: The Trump Administration Just Picked a Big Food Fight With New York City

August 15, 2017

From: Bloomberg
Aug 15, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is quietly going to war with his hometown’s calorie-counting obsession.

The U.S. threw its weight on Monday behind trade groups suing New York over what the government calls a “unilateral” plan to enforce a local 2015 calorie-labeling law at restaurants and food retailers in the city sooner than a thrice-delayed federal effort.

A provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act that requires calorie labeling nationwide gave the Food and Drug Administration full control over when and how to enforce it, the government said. That means Bill De Blasio, New York’s Democratic mayor, can’t implement a local law starting Aug. 21, the U.S. argues. The FDA in May again delayed the federal law for a year.

“It’s pretty clear from the delay of the national law the day before it was supposed to take effect that the Trump administration has no intention of supporting menu labeling,” Colin Schwartz, a senior associate at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a phone call. Trump has signaled that he’ll “do whatever industry wants him to do,” he said.

The government argued federal law preempts the city’s effort, and it didn’t say that Trump was backing away from the labeling requirements altogether. But the president has promised to slash government regulations of business and has been critical of rules put in place by his predecessor that he says gum up the economy.

A hearing on the city’s request to dismiss the lawsuit is set for Aug. 16 before U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero.

Calorie Labeling

Many restaurant chains across the U.S. already include calorie labeling on their menus voluntarily.

De Blasio’s office said in a statement in May that the city would focus on its own efforts in the name of public health, regardless of the FDA’s delay.

“While the Trump administration may disagree, knowledge is power, and that is particularly true when it comes to nutrition,” New York City Council Member Corey Johnson, chairman of the Health Committee, said in the statement. “People have the right to readily-available information regarding the food they consume and the effects it will have on their health.”

A message left at the Health and Human Services press office wasn’t immediately returned. DOJ spokeswoman Dawn Dearden declined to comment. A message left with de Blasio’s office wasn’t immediately returned. Osvaldo Vazquez, the attorney for the National Association of Convenience Stores, one of the plaintiffs, declined to comment.

New York in 2008 became the first city in the U.S. to require fast food and other restaurant chains to post calorie counts. In 2015, the city beefed up the law to include calorie information about prepared foods sold in chain convenience stores and grocery stores, as well as a requirement that the average recommended daily intake of 2,000 calories be displayed to give the labels context.

New York Fines

The New York law, which includes fines of up to $600 for failure to comply, applies to chain restaurants with 15 locations or more nationwide. It’s expected to affect about 3,000 restaurants and about 1,500 food retailer chains, the city has said.

The FDA in May extended the federal compliance date by a year to May 7, 2018, citing “the diverse and complex set of stakeholders affected by the rule and continued, numerous, and fundamental questions they raise regarding the final rule and its implementation.”

Federal law prohibits any state or municipality from imposing food-labeling regulation that’s not identical to labeling requirements established by Congress and the FDA, the trade groups said in their complaint. New York’s regulation isn’t identical because it takes effect immediately while the FDA “made a considered decision” to require compliance until May, the groups said in their request for an injunction against the enforcement of the city law.

Former President Barack Obama’s FDA in 2015 issued the first delay of the labeling law as part of an effort to expand the reach of the legislation. Congress delayed it again in 2016.The case is National Association of Convenience Stores v. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 1:17-cv-05324, U.S. District Court Southern District of New York (Manhattan).


Bedford+Bowerery: Rat Repellant

August 11, 2017

August 11, 2017

In a city with as many rats as there are children, New York has taken on several methods of eliminating the pests from city streets, homes and sewers. Birth control, dry ice, and bait have all been employed to curb the ever-growing population. Just last month Mayor de Blasio declared a $32 million war on rats, which has already proven to be successful in the East Village. But rats aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and they’ve even been linked to a Bronx resident who was killed by leptospirosis this year. So last night, a few dozen New Yorkers scurried over to Midtown to attend the third annual Rat Academy and get schooled on all things vermin by a health department rat expert, Caroline Bragdon. Graduates of the talk, hosted by Council Member Corey Johnson, walked away with brand-new rat-proof garbage bins and two hours worth of rat facts. Here are 10 lessons we learned at Rat Academy.

1. The rat map should be your new best resource when apartment hunting or deciding if you should eat at that C-rated restaurant. And yes, there are “uptown” rats and “downtown” rats.
2. Rat droppings apparently look like multivitamins. Gross.
3. Those stray, gnawed chicken bones you see on the street aren’t from a toddler who dropped their snack. Nope, they’re from hungry rats.
4. One of last night’s attendees said he found a rat in his toilet and gets nervous when using it now. Which is why you should always close your toilet lid and install one of these pipe flaps.
5. Rats are climbers, so keep the windows closed and the fresh air and rats out. Oh, and mind your strollers.
6. If you were thinking you could hop in your car and drive away from a rat infested apartment, you’d be wrong. Rats love to bring snacks and kick it inside warm vehicles.
7. Making their homes uninhabitable, a.k.a. burrow harassment, is one of the best ways to evict rats from an area. Try packing their burrows with landscaping pebbles to trap them inside for a less gory solution.
8. If there’s a hole the size of a quarter, a rat can shimmy through without a problem. Mice only need a dime-sized hole.
9. According to Bragdon, pets don’t scare away rodents and they surely can’t keep up with their rapid breeding. (These rat-hunting dog owners might disagree.) Even predators don’t do much to eradicate them– the city is hesitant to bait in areas where there are large populations of hawks that could be secondarily poisoned.
10. There’s no known magic-bullet rat repellant, so put the pepper away. Bragdon didn’t mention the mint-scented trash bags that the city spent $5.6 million on last year, but experts have questioned their efficacy as well. Plus, putting a baited trap near a food source will only do so much, since rats will just go to the better food.


DNA Info: City Council Votes to Raise Price of Cigarettes to Minimum of $13 a Pack

August 10, 2017

August 10, 2017

The City Council passed legislation to raise the price of a pack of cigarettes to at least $13 and ban their sale in pharmacies.

Wednesday’s vote came nearly four months after Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council members announced the plan to hike the cost of cigarettes and limit the number of places they can be sold.

“As someone who struggles personally with tobacco addiction, I know firsthand the grip that this substance can have on our lives,” Councilman Corey Johnson in a statement. “I also know that together, we can loosen its grip and win the battle against Big Tobacco.”

The legislation will now head to the mayor’s desk for his signature.

Officials said during the April announcement that their goal was to reduce the number of smokers in the city by 160,000 in three years.

The plan also includes regulating e-cigarettes and cutting the more than 8,000 retailers licensed to sell cigarettes in half.

More than 30 council members voted for the bill, while nine opposed it.

Retail industry advocates slammed the legislation, pointing out the negative economic impact on small business owners.

“Our retail members share the goal of preventing underage tobacco use, have worked hard to prevent such sales and it has worked,” said Jim Calvin, president of the NY Association of Convenience Stores.

“These measures will destroy the business investment of retailers who have been leading the effort to prevent youth access to tobacco products, and the result will be lost revenue, lost jobs and an increasing number of sales in unregulated and illegal settings.”


Daily News: Cigarette smokers must shell out at least $13 as City Council raises minimum price per pack

August 9, 2017

August 9, 2017

Cigarettes will be pricier and harder to find after the City Council passed legislation Wednesday to hike the minimum price of a pack to $13, cut the number of tobacco sellers and ban the sale of smokes in pharmacies.

The mayor — who rolled out the plan with members of the Council in April — is expected to sign the legislation, which the Health Department has said could cut the number of smokers by 160,000 by 2020.

The minimum price for a pack of cigarettes will increase from $10.50 to $13. Though many retailers in the city already charge that much or more, the average price of a pack in New York City is $11.23, according to the Health Department, meaning plenty of people will be paying more.

“As bargain cigarettes are forced to increase prices, we speculate that premium brands may increase their prices too to maintain separation from the lower tier of the market,” Department of Health spokesman Christopher Miller said.

Tobacco products other than cigarettes will be hit with a 10% tax that will go to public housing

“As someone who struggles personally with nicotine addiction, I know firsthand the grip that this substance can have on our lives,” said Councilman Corey Johnson, the health committee chair and sponsor of the minimum price and tax bills. “I also know that together we can loosen its grip.”

Cigarettes will also become harder to find in city stores — outlawing their sale in pharmacies means no more picking up a pack at the local Duane Reade. And another bill will cut by half the number of retailers licensed to sell tobacco products — there are about 9,000 today — over 10 years, the city says by attrition. That will extend to e-cigarettes, thanks to legislation that calls for treating them the same way as regular cigarettes.

“I support this 150%, and I’m saying this with a cigarette tucked behind my ear,” Camar Albert, 26, a client associate for a wealth management firm, said in the Bronx. “We’re killing ourselves slowly.

Christopher Wilson, 48, who works in construction, said “the higher the price, the better” — even though he, too, is a smoker.

“Brother, I smoke very hard, but the fewer places you can buy them, the better,” he said. “I support the price increase. Normally, I smoke 20 for the day but if the price goes up I’ll be lucky to smoke 10.”

That tracks with what Michael Davoli, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said usually happens when availability goes down and price goes up.

“What we know is if you make it harder for people to find tobacco and harder for people to get tobacco, and at the same time making it more expensive to purchase tobacco and limiting the places where you can use tobacco, you drive down smoking rates,” he said.

Nine Council members voted against the bill to boost the cost of cigarettes, many citing concerns it would disproportionately burden low income New Yorkers who haven’t been able to kick the habit.

And a coalition of convenience and grocery stores, bodegas and newsstand operators slammed the bills.“These measures will destroy the business investment of retailers who have been leading the effort to prevent youth access to tobacco products, and the result will be lost revenue, lost jobs and an increasing number of sales in unregulated and illegal settings,” said Jim Calvin, president of the NY Association of Convenience Stores.

Bronx resident Raymond Flores, 42, agreed — and suggested an alternative. “They should actually lower the prices so people don’t buy bootleg cigarettes and then get caught,” he said.


Pix 11: Lawmakers raise minimum price of cigarettes, slash number of tobacco sellers

August 9, 2017

August 9, 2017

The City Council took a major step toward snuffing out smoking habits Wednesday.

Lawmakers passed legislation designed to hike the minimum price of a pack by $2.50, slash the number of tobacco sellers and ban the sale of cigarettes in pharmacies. The bills are waiting for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature.

The seven bills are designed to make it harder to access tobacco products and reduce the number of smokers citywide.

“New York City has driven smoking rates to historic lows and protected our communities from secondhand smoke,” said American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network spokesperson Michael Davoli. “Once enacted, these seven bills will once again put New York City in the forefront of protecting its residents, workers and visitors from putting their lives and health at risk.”

Here’s a breakdown of the bills:

1. Minimum tobacco price and non-cigarette tobacco tax: The bill would increase the minimum price of cigarettes from $10.50 to $13. It would also establish a 10 percent tax on all non-cigarette tobacco products.
2. Retailer cap: This bill would cut the number of retailers licensed to sell tobacco products in half
3. Tobacco-free pharmacies: This bill would stop pharmacies from selling cigarettes or tobacco products. Some pharmacies have already taken this step on their own.
4. Retail license fee increase: This bill would raise the licensing fee for selling cigarettes. It would nearly double from $110 to $200.
5. Electronic cigarette license creation: This bill would require sellers of e-cigarettes to get a license
6. Smoking Policy Disclosure: This bill would require rental apartment buildings, co-ops and condo buildings to create a smoking policy
7. Prohibit smoking in multi-dwellings: This bill would prohibit smoking in the common areas of buildings with fewer than 10 units.


Crain’s: City Council votes to raise cost of cigarettes to $13 a pack, ban pharmacy sales

August 9, 2017

August 9, 2017

The New York City Council voted Wednesday to impose new taxes and regulations on an array of tobacco products, to bar their sale in pharmacies and to curb the sale and use of electronic cigarettes.

The package, which has the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, will raise the price floor on a pack of cigarettes to $13 from $10.50, and smokeless tobacco and shisha packages to $17 from $8. Retailers that sell individual cigars would have to charge at least $8.

The legislation will also establish a new 10% tax on loose tobacco, cigars, cigarillos and tobacco-laced shisha, and direct the revenue toward public housing. Manhattan Councilman Corey Johnson, who sponsored several of the bills, argued the danger of tobacco use justifies the hikes.

“Tobacco use kills an estimated 12,000 New Yorkers a year,” said Johnson, who chairs the council’s Committee on Health. “This is unacceptable.”

The new laws will also raise the cost of a cigarette retail license from $110 to $200, and bar the sale of tobacco products from pharmacies. The drug-store chain CVS stopped selling tobacco on its own three years ago.

The bills also include statutes establishing a new parallel licensing system for e-cigarette retailers, and caps the number such stores at half their current density—but allows the decrease to occur through attrition. E-cigarette dealers will not be able to sell other tobacco products.

Finally, another set of bills will outlaw the use of e-cigarettes in the halls, lobbies and other shared spaces of apartment buildings with fewer than 10 units. Vaping in the common areas of larger buildings is already illegal. Bronx Councilman James Vacca, who sponsored the legislation curtailing indoor e-cigarette use, defended his bill even though studies have not yet shown second-hand e-cigarette vapors to be as dangerous as smoke.

“I will err on the safety of the person who does not want cigarette smoke of any type in their presence,” Vacca told Crain’s.

Critics have pointed out that raising taxes on tobacco results in more black-market sales. Perhaps half of all cigarettes smoked in New York City are smuggled from places where taxes are lower.

But opponents have found little traction in the City Council, forcing them to resort to efforts beyond traditional lobbying.

The law firm Gerstman Schwartz Malito LLP, representing the New York Association of Grocery Stores, just penned a letter to the council accusing it of violating open meetings rules in the passage of the vaping legislation. The letter alleged that because a bill that added the term “electronic cigarettes retail dealer” to the city administrative code passed the Committee on Health on Tuesday simultaneously with the legislation establishing new regulations on such dealers, the committee must have held a previous secret meeting to arrange and ensure the passage of both measures.

Had such a clandestine meeting not taken place, the letter insisted, there would have been no way of guaranteeing both laws would pass—and the regulations could not take effect without the new terminology getting added to the city code.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and council attorneys dismissed the claims as baseless. They maintained that both bills passed through normal, permitted and fully transparent processes in full compliance with open-meetings rules.