EDITORAL: A good New York tax hike

Pricey Cigarettes
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This might be one of those situations in which New York’s reputation for high taxes could be a good thing for state residents.

Among the many elements of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s state of the state message last week was a proposal to reduce the health impacts of smoking by raising New York’s tax on cigarettes and banning the sale of flavored tobacco products.

The higher tax on cigarettes is meant mainly to curtail adult smoking. The ban on flavored tobacco products will also curb adult use, but could have the added benefit of discouraging youths from taking up smoking in the first place.

Under the governor’s proposal, the state tax on a package of cigarettes would increase $1, from $4.35 to $5.35, which would make New York’s cigarette tax the highest in the country, leapfrogging the District of Columbia.

About 2.5 million New Yorkers are smokers, and more than 28,000 adults in New York die each year from tobacco use. Another 3,000-plus nonsmokers die each year in New York due to exposure to other people’s smoking. Under the proposal, state officials hope to reduce the number of young people smoking by 9% and prevent 22,000 youths from becoming smokers as adults.

History shows that increasing the cigarette tax does result in corresponding decrease in smoking. According to the American Lung Association, every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about 4% among adults and about 7% among youth.

So there’s certainly a legitimate health reason for the proposal — essentially trying to price people out of the market to save their lives.

The proposal has the support, naturally, of anti-smoking organizations like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

For those who feel smoking is a personal matter and that increasing the tax represents a tax on smokers’ individual rights, we remind them there’s also a financial cost to smoking that affects all New Yorkers, not just smokers.

According to the American Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control” report issued last January, smoking costs the state over $10 billion a year in healthcare costs for smokers and non-smokers exposed to smoke, lost worker productivity, Medicaid program expenditures and other related impacts.

A higher tax could help reduce those costs. But raising the tax on cigarettes is only one step the state needs to take to be effective in reducing the human and financial costs of tobacco use.

The same Lung Association report from last year gave the state a failing grade for funding for state tobacco prevention programs, a grade of D for ending the sale of tobacco related products and a grade of C on insurance coverage and access to services to quit tobacco.

New York needs to invest in other life- and cost-saving measures behind the higher tax if it truly hopes to curb the impacts of smoking.

The higher cigarette tax and the ban on flavored tobacco products is a good start.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion, Opinion

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