Health Groups Urge Higher Cigarette Taxes in N.Y.

Health-care advocates in New York called upon the legislature to increase the double the state tax on cigarettes to $3 a pack to encourage smokers to quit and increase state revenue. "The price increase will encourage 168,000 adult smokers to quit and prevent 291,000 teens from ever smoking," Russell Sciandra, director of the Center for a Tobacco Free New York Director, told the Albany (N.Y.) Press & Sun-Bulletin. "Raising the cigarette tax could reduce teenage smoking by 16% and result in 5% of adults quitting."

The tax hike would also generate $500 million in new state revenue. Ten percent–$50 million–of those funds should be invested in initiatives to get New Yorkers to quit smoking, with the remaining 90% of the revenue funding other health-related programs.

The tax on cigarettes is currently a $1.50 a pack, with New York City collecting an additional $3.00 per pack, according to the tobacco-free center. In 2006, there were 2.8 million adult smokers in the state, or 18.2% of the state’s over-18 population, according to Brian Marchetti, a spokesman for the state chapter of the American Lung Association.

The national average for state cigarette tax is $1.112 per-pack, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

The issue is not getting much support. Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate Republicans said they are opposed to the tax hike. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver questioned whether a larger tax on cigarettes would benefit the state, the report said. He said a new tax might prompt smokers to buy cigarettes in other states or on Indian reservations, where the prices are cheaper.

The head of the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS), James Calvin, slammed the initiative.

"It’s a false assumption that a higher tax rate would generate more revenue," Calvin said in a statement. "Partly due to consumption declines, but mostly due to tax evasion, the state collects less cigarette excise tax today at $1.50 per pack than it did in 2001 when the tax rate was 39 cents a pack lower."

Almost half of the smokers in the state buy cigarettes from tax-free outlets, Calvin said.

"The state collects just under $1 billion in cigarette taxes annually, but loses another $1 billion due to tax-free sales by Internet vendors, Native American tribal stores and black market entrepreneurs," Calvin said.

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