The state budget proposed by Governor Kathy Hochul contains provisions for the banning of menthol cigarettes and adding a $1 tax to the price of cigarettes. The ban and tobacco tax are proposed as a measure to protect the health of New Yorkers who suffer from tobacco inflicted illness and death.
“With commercial tobacco use the leading cause of preventable deaths, Gov. Hochul is leading the way to a tobacco-free generation to reduce youth smoking and prevent senseless deaths,” said Hochul’s spokesperson, Hazel Crampton-Hays.
Unpopular With The Unions
The proposed ban and tax has proved unpopular in several circles. If the proposal were to go ahead, a significant number of people employed in New York’s tobacco industry would suffer job losses. This has left trade unions unhappy, more so because they supported Governor Hochul’s bid to assume the highest political office in New York.
Mike Smith, President of Local 810 International Brotherhood of Teamsters, claimed that 500 out of 4,000 employees represented by the trade union would lose their jobs if Governor Hochul’s tax and ban proposals were finalized.
“Our union brothers and sisters in the tobacco industry are at risk of losing their jobs, benefits, and pensions due to Governor Hochul‘s proposed ban on menthol/flavored tobacco and tax hike,” he said.
“While we understand the intent of the legislation is not to eliminate Teamster jobs or destabilize Teamster pension funds, the unfortunate reality is that those will be certain results,” said President of the Teamsters’ Joint Council No. 16, Thomas Gesualdi.
Impact on Business
Governor Hochul has also raised the ire of store owners and tobacco merchandisers. They claim that a tax increase and a ban on flavored tobacco products would lead to job losses, severe financial losses, and boost the tobacco black market. New York Association of Convenience Stores President Kent Sopris projected $1 billion losses for the stores that form part of the association.
“Prohibitionist policies and regressive taxes such as these will only hurt small businesses, strengthen the underground market and have no health impact on adults or children,” Sopris said.
“There’ll be jobs lost,” Sopris said. “And some stores only sell flavored tobacco products. They’re just very popular. If you take them away, those entire stores will close down.”
While doing research, the Tax Foundation found that New York has the highest rate of illegal cigarette smuggling, which they said will only rise if Governor Hochul gets what she wants. An expanded cigarette black market would affect tax collection.
Support for the Proposals
While the prospective banning of flavored tobacco and tax on tobacco products has left the unions and store owners unhappy, it has been supported by anti-tobacco advocates.
Michael Davoli of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network spoke on the dangers of tobacco. “Tobacco kills and we know that flavor hooks kids and starts them on a lifelong addiction to tobacco and enough is enough,” he said.
“We need lawmakers to stop making excuses, why they can’t get rid of tobacco and we need them to take action,” Davoli continued.
Marla Garland of the NAACP chapter in Brooklyn explained that banning menthol cigarettes, which are popular in the African-American community, would save a lot of lives.
“It’s automatically going to save lives because menthol cigarettes are used by 85% of African-American smokers,” Garland said. “So if you take that away, imagine how many lives that’s going to save.”
The final state budget must be approved and released by April 1st. Governor Hochul’s proposed budget has faced criticism from a variety of quarters. It remains to be seen if all the critics will get what they want.