de Blasio: Raise cigarette prices


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Mayor hopes increase, to minimum of $13, would mean more ex-smokers


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  • Mayor Bill de Blasio, flanked by City Council Member Corey Johnson, left, and Health Department Commissioner Mary Bassett, right, announced legislation to curb smoking and tobacco usage during an April 19 press conference at the offices of the American Heart Association. Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office



Legislation proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio would raise the base price of a pack of cigarettes to $13, which would make New York City the most expensive place in the country to buy smokes. The city’s estimated 900,000 smokers currently pay a minimum of $10.50 a pack and the mayor hopes the increase will reduce smokers’ numbers by 160,000 within three years.

At an April 19 press conference announcing the proposed increase, de Blasio called big tobacco “public enemy number one when it comes to public health” and expressed hope that targeting smokers’ wallets would help protect their bodies.

“Right now in New York City, the top five causes of death [are] heart disease, cancer, pneumonia, respiratory diseases and stroke,” the mayor, flanked by officials from the American Heart Association, said. “What do they have in common? All of them can be linked to tobacco use.”

In addition to raising the cost of cigarettes, de Blasio pledged to gradually reduce the number of stores that can sell tobacco products. The five bills included in the package would also restrict e-cigarette retailers and would make more information available to tenants about their buildings’ smoking policies.

Council Member Corey Johnson, who represents a chunk of Manhattan’s West Side, shared his personal relationship with smoking at the press conference. “I’m someone that struggles with this,” he said. “I have been clean and sober from alcohol and drugs for almost eight years ... but I have not been able to quit smoking. It was easier for me to quit drinking and using illegal drugs.” Johnson is also the chairman of the City Council’s health committee.

According to the Tax Policy Center, New York state’s revenue from taxing tobacco products has declined over the last few years after peaking in 2012 at $1.7 billion. Similarly, New York City has seen its revenue in that category go from $6.7 million in 2012 to $4.5 million last year.

A 2015 report by the city’s Independent Budget Office found that city spending on anti-smoking programs was down at the time, and smoking rates were rising. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a champion of the anti-smoking cause during his tenure, and de Blasio is considered as tardy to the issue.

“The previous administration did everything it could, and unfortunately, for whatever reasons, we’re at a period right now where we’re leaving some opportunities on the table,” Kevin O’Flaherty, director of advocacy for the Northeast region for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the New York Times in January.

Asked about the less aggressive approach to smoking during his administration, de Blasio said he had been focusing on other aspects in the same category, such as pedestrian safety and mental health. ”It was a question of sequencing everything,” he said. “We knew this was important, but we had to get it right and we had to get it in the right sequence.”

Now, evidently, he hopes to make up for lost time.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at newsreporter@strausnews.com


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