By: KERRY BURKE and JILLIAN JORGENSEN
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.