N.Y. Convenience Stores Call for State to Ramp Up Fight Against Illegal Cigarettes

The move comes as Gov. Kathy Hochul supports a $1-per-pack tax increase, as well as a ban on menthol cigarettes.
cigarettes & gavel

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York state officials are being urged to step up the enforcement of illegally smuggled cigarettes amid state budget talks that included a $1-per-pack tax increase, as well as a ban on menthol cigarettes.

The New York State Legislature rejected a proposal to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, but did decide to keep a dollar increase in the excise tax on cigarettes, from $4.35 to $5.35.

In a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul, the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS) pointed to more than $1 billion in lost revenue from illegally smuggled tobacco products in the state. According to the Tax Foundation, this accounts for about 250 million smuggled cigarette packs, Spectrum 1 News reported.

"This is funding that could be used for cessation programs or enforcement efforts but instead supports an economy where there are no rules and certainly no age requirements," wrote Kent Sopris, NYACS president. "Not a week goes by where my taxpaying, law-abiding members do not report illegal retail activity in their towns and cities."

The group urged Hochul to instead ramp up enforcement of existing anti-smuggling laws in New York.  

"If the state is serious about lowering smoking rates and ensuring consumer products on the market are legal and taxed appropriately, instead of advocating for failed policies like flavor bans and tax increases, it should prioritize and fund enforcement programs statewide," Sopris wrote. "Any other policy will merely hurt New Yorkers."

Supporters of the tax-and-ban proposal first proposed by Hochul this year rallied at the State Capitol on March 20. 

Arc of Justice President Rev. Kirsten John Foy said tobacco giants have sought to cloud the issue over the criminal justice effects of a menthol ban, and that the state would save money by restricting access to products that have harmed poorer communities. 

"New York stands to save tens of billions of dollars in immediate and long-term public health care costs," Foy said. "These costs are borne out by the state because the communities that are targeted are in large measure covered by Medicaid. Because Big Tobacco targets these communities, they bear a large disparity in health care outcomes."