New York’s government leaders have agreed to boost the state cigarette tax by $1.25 per pack to create the nation’s highest state cigarette tax, officials said Wednesday.
New York’s $2.75-per-pack tax would jump ahead of New Jersey for the highest state tax in the nation. New York has been ranked the 16th highest with a tax of $1.50 tax per pack.
In New York, the average price of a pack of cigarettes is about $5.82 statewide.
New Jersey’s tax is $2.57 a pack, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The lowest state cigarette tax is in tobacco growing states, including South Carolina where the tax is 7 cents per pack.
“You can bet we were rooting behind the scenes for the tobacco tax,” said New York Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines, who confirmed the tax will increase by $1.25.
The original proposal was for a $1.50 increase.
“We think that’s fantastic,” said Peter Slocum, spokesman for the American Cancer Society. “It will still probably prevent more than 200,000 teenagers from starting to smoke,” he said. “That’s a win-win for now and for the future.”
State budget office spokesman Jeffrey Gordon said the tax would raise $265 million for New York’s $124 billion proposed budget. Much of the cigarette tax revenue would be used for health programs including those to help smokers quit and keep youths from starting.
“This is putting a gun to my head and saying you are taking money from me for my own good,” said Audrey Silk of Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, based in New York City. “It’s no different than a robber saying that when he’s sticking you up.”
She disputes claims that raising the tax will reduce smoking.
“Those are based on self reports and in this day and age, you’re demonized as a smoker,” she said. “Taxation shouldn’t be used for social engineering.”
The first increase in the cigarette tax since 2002 was considered essential by many in Albany as they tried to craft a 2008-09 budget with an estimated $5 billion deficit and declining revenue growth.
During this week’s budget negotiations, the status of the tax had often changed from one closed-door meeting to another.
But Gov. David Paterson administration officials and legislative officials confirmed there is agreement on a $1.25 increase, although it won’t be final in a revenue bill or voted on until later this week.
“We’re not confirming any agreements on revenue because there are none,” said John McArdle, spokesman for Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno, who was most opposed to raising the tax.
“It’s a great victory for the public and a great victory for the people who overcame a lobbying onslaught by the tobacco industry,” said Russ Sciandra of The Center for a Tobacco Free New York.
He said anti-smoking advocates estimated the tobacco industry spent about $1 million lobbying in Albany this legislative session.