New York Cigarette Taxes Spike by $1 Per Pack, Highest in Nation

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(By Christian Wade, The Center Square) New Yorkers will be paying more for smokes as a $1 per pack tax hike goes into effect on Friday, making the state one of the most expensive in the nation to buy tobacco products.

The changes, which were approved as part of the $229 billion state budget, raise the per-pack tax for cigarettes from $4.35 to $5.35, making the highest tax of any state even higher. It’s the state’s first cigarette tax increase in a decade. That brings the average price of a pack to more than $12 in most retail stores.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, had pushed for the higher taxes and a proposal to ban sales of flavored tobacco products, which was ultimately rejected by the state Legislature in budget negotiations.

Anti-tobacco groups praised the state’s move to hike cigarette taxes, saying it will save lives by incentivizing more people to kick the habit.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network projects the impact of the higher tax will save 15,300 New Yorkers’ lives and prevent 14,400 youth under age 18 from becoming adults who smoke.

“By implementing a proven tobacco control intervention, we can prevent youth from trying tobacco and encourage existing smokers to quit, resulting in lower smoking rates,” said Meghan Hallihan, Tobacco-Free CNY’s public health educator. “Smoking-related illnesses are the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, so policies aiming to reduce the number of people who smoke could save many lives.”

More than 28,200 New Yorkers die every year from smoking-related diseases, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Annual costs of tobacco-related illnesses have risen to $4 billion.

Nationally, smoking-related deaths top 400,000 a year, while healthcare expenditures are nearly $96 billion, the CDC says.

But, critics have argued that Hochul’s push to hike cigarette taxes would fuel the black market for untaxed smokes and create a fiscal hole that the state would need to plug.

“If enacted, consumers will go across borders to do their shopping or rely on black-market suppliers,” Adam Hoffer, director of excise tax policy at the Tax Foundation, wrote in a report on the state’s tax hike plans earlier this year. “Tax revenues will fall, illicit activities will thrive, and law enforcement spending will need to increase.”

Other reports argue that New York is shortchanging its anti-tobacco programs despite billions of dollars in revenue through settlements and other sources.

New York collected more than $1.8 billion in tobacco taxes in the budget year that ended June 30, according to state budget figures. It includes payments tied to a 1998 settlement with tobacco companies.

But the state spent only $42 million on smoking cessation programs last year, according to a recent report by the New York Public Interest Research Group, only 20.7% of the $203 million the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it devotes annually to helping people kick the habit.

The lack of money devoted to helping addicts quit is one reason the state consistently scores an “F” in the American Lung Association’s annual scorecard of tobacco control programs.

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