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Smoking in NYC? Fughetaboutit

NEW YORK -- New York City retailers and big tobacco reacted angrily yesterday to a proposal by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to raise the city's cigarette tax and increase pack prices to $7 by the summer.

Under Bloomberg's plan, New York City's cigarette tax would increase $1.42. A pack of smokes is already going up in price. Effective April 1, the state tax on cigarettes will rise to $1.50 from $1.11 -- a 39-cent increase. Factor in the state increase, a $1.42 city tax hike and $5 a pack -- the average in New York City -- smokers are suddenly looking at paying $6.81.

The mayor said the impetus for his tax proposal was to help people quit smoking. The mayor needs approval from Albany to increase the cigarette tax. If approved, it would bring an extra $249 million to city coffers next year.

"This is not a revenue-enhancing thing -- although I'd like to have the revenue," said Bloomberg, whose city faces major financial woes. "This is something for the future of our children."

However, retailers questioned the mayor's tactics and said the proposal would end up costing the state money.

"It's preposterous," said James Calvin, president of the New York State Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS). "Say what you want about whether it's smart for people to smoke, but people who smoke are not stupid about where to find cigarettes that do not include exorbitant taxes."

Bloomberg told reporters he believed he had the support of state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) to hike the tax. A spokesman said Bruno "told the mayor he wants to be helpful, not just on this issue, but other help he may be seeking from Albany."

Tobacco officials railed at the plan. "The mayor has promised not to raise taxes," said Michael Pfeil, vice president of communications at Philip Morris. "The same logic that the mayor has used to hold all other taxes steady applies to the proposed cigarette tax increase."
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