Washington Square News: N.Y. tax on tobacco becomes highest in nation

(June 28, 2010)

Posted on28 June 2010.

By Clarissa Wei

Washington Square News, New York U. via UWIRE

In an effort to help close the state's $9 billion budget gap, Gov. David Paterson passed legislation last week raising New York's cigarette tax by an additional $1.60 per pack to take effect on July 1.

State Senator Jeffrey Klein said the new levy is expected to help raise an estimated $150 million in revenue and could reduce the number of smokers in New York.

"Our state can count on more than half a billion dollars in previously uncollected revenue each year," he said in a statement.

Michael Seilback, vice president of policy and communications for the American Lung Association of New York agreed and called the initiative one of the government's smartest ideas.

"We know both from the research studies … anytime that the tax on cigarettes has gone up, the amount of cigarettes being smoked goes down," Seilback said. "It's going to prevent children from ever starting to smoke and it's going help adults make the decision to quit."

But opponents of the tax argue that the tax is counterproductive and won't help the state climb out of its deficit.

"In New York the cigarette excise tax has become one of the least efficient vehicles for generating revenues for the state," said Jim Calvin, president of the New York State Association of Convience Stores. "The state is only collecting about 50 cents of every dollar in cigarette tax revenues."

Some students are also criticizing the new tax, calling it unfairly burdensome on smokers.

"Every smoker nowadays knows exactly the risks they are taking, and at this point a further raise in prices is just punishing otherwise responsible adults," CAS sophomore and smoker Anson Pontynen said.

Pontynen says he believes that smokers have, in the past, been exploited by irresponsible fiscal planning and that increases in prices do little to stop them from smoking.

Taking this latest increase into account with existing taxes, the total amount levied on tobacco in New York is now $5.85 — the highest in the country.

But Mika Kurose Rothman, campus coordinator for NYU Students Organizing for America, urged critics to take a more open-minded approach to the issue.

"When you consider the fact that New York schools, parks and other social services are forced to make huge cuts because of the deficit, a tax on such an unnecessary and harmful item, like cigarettes, seems like a fitting solution," Rothman said. "At the same time, I think it's important to look at who this extra tax will actually affect. If you just look at New York City, the areas with the highest smoking rates also have the lowest median income. And these are the communities that would bear most of the burdens that come with the budget deficit."