New York State Cigarette Tax Battle Rages On

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New York State Cigarette Tax Battle Rages On

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Two representatives from opposing sides of the cigarette taxation issue -- a doctor and a representative for the c-store industry -- came together in agreement this week to push New York state Governor Eliot Spitzer to enforce his plans to collect sales tax on cigarettes sold by Native American businesses in New York to non-Native American customers, The Associated Press reported.

While Dr. Michael Cummings wouldn't mind seeing $10 assessed in taxes on a pack of cigarettes -- enough to defray the medical costs associated with smoking, he said -- Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS), and the convenience stores he represents, would not stand for such a tax.

However, both men stood side by side in an alliance to pressure Spitzer, who has vowed to settle the issue, the report stated.

While a collection plan has yet to be established, the state is open to a proposal that would provide for tax collection while sharing the revenue with tribes, a spokeswoman said this week. The measure would end Native American retailers' price advantage over non-Native American retailers, which are forced to collect the state's $1.50 per pack tax, the AP reported.

The issue is of great concern to NYACS and Calvin. The organization has frequently attested that the 7,000 members are unable to compete with Native American retailers' reduced prices and the result is millions of dollars in revenue for state and local governments being lost.

Cummings claimed that the lack of tax collection and reduced-price cigarettes encourage smoking, raising the incidence of cancer and heart disease, he said. The public cost of treating smoking-related illnesses amounts to $1,000 per year for every household in the state, he added.

‘"We've created a situation where we're making smoking more affordable than it should be," said Cummings, who spoke with Calvin at the office of Erie County Executive Joel Giambra, a former smoker who survived throat cancer, the report stated.

The other side of the debate is also putting pressure on Spitzer as well. Last week, approximately 500 members of the Seneca Indian Nation gathered to try to convince Spitzer otherwise. Members traveled from Allegany and Cattaraugus reservations in western New York for a show of force outside Buffalo City Hall.

"We would like to make a statement to the newly elected governor of New York State, Eliot Spitzer," Seneca President Maurice John said. "We will not become tax collectors for New York state."

Tribal leaders said smoke shops and gas stations run by Native Americans support hundreds of jobs held by non-Native Americans and Native Americans alike.

While the contributions are appreciated, Calvin said: "being an economic force does not excuse any entity from abiding by duly enacted standards for conducting commerce with New Yorkers, and that includes taxation."