YNN: Cigarette tax could help smokers quit

(July 3, 2010)

July 3, 2010

By: Solomon Syed

New Yorkers are still adjusting to the new cigarette tax imposed this week. Some believe it will actually encourage thousands of smokers to quit. But if that happens, it could defeat the purpose of the tax. Our Solomon Syed explains.

ALBANY, N.Y.-- As the nation's highest cigarette tax filtered through tobacco sales this week, it may spark smokers forced to cough up exorbitant fees to kick the habit instead.

"We estimate that this will result in 120,000 fewer smokers and 23,000 fewer high school smokers," says Kathleen O'Neill, a communications manager for the American Lung Association.

And with cigarettes running upwards of $10 a pack in some locations, and cartons going for a hundred-plus in others, it's no longer a pipe dream to spend less than half that much on quitting aids or treatment programs.

"it's going to be cheaper to quit. It's going to help your health to quit smoking, and it's going to help your wallet too," says O'Neill.

But helping stamp out a deadly habit is not the only possible consequence of this so-called "sin-tax," which is actually designed to raise $440 million in revenue, but could ultimately prove to be a budget buster.

"When you do that big an increase of a $1.60 a pack of a price of cigarettes, you are hastening the day, when that revenue simply drops off a cliff," says E.J. McMahon, the director of Empire Center for New York State public policy. "Some people will quit. Some people will not quit, will smoke as much, but will buy their cigarettes from other sources that are cheaper, that are not collecting the tax. They'll buy when they visit other states. Or they'll buy their cigarettes illegally, from the back of someone's car. That means the state and its localities will also have to devote more resources to law enforcement."

Diminishing returns would certainly fan the flames of economic unrest, but cancer-prevention groups continue to hold out hope that New Yorkers will get a cleaner bill of health thanks to the tax.

And if you would like more information on how to quit, visit the American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking Online Program. ffsonline.org