December 1, 2021

Tax hike on cigs sought

Association urges New York to impose $1 increase

S.N. Briere/ staff reporter

Kia Bradley of Cortland, right, purchases a pack of Newport cigarettes from Daily Grind worker Larissa Larsen Monday afternoon. The American Heart Association is asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to increase the tax on cigarettes $1 and create a similar increase for other tobacco products in his 2021 state budget to hinder people from purchasing the products.

Kia Bradley of Cortland began smoking cigarettes when she was 18 to help her deal with stress, but if the state raises the tax on cigarettes by $1, she said she’ll likely quit.

“They’re already expensive,” she said, noting she smokes Newport cigarettes, which are $12 per pack in Cortland County but $15 in New York City.

She said it’s not worth paying more.

The American Heart Association is making a weeklong push to get Gov. Andrew Cuomo to raise the tax on cigarettes by $1 to $5.35 per 20-pack of cigarettes and create tax parity on other tobacco items, so when cigarette taxes increase, other tobacco products would see a similar increase. The concepts are meant to hinder people from starting to use tobacco or prompt people to quit using them.

“It’s been 10 years since there was an increase in tobacco taxes in New York,” states a news release from the Heart Association. “The tax has become stale, but the need to reduce tobacco use — a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke — remains fresh.”

The current taxes on tobacco products according to the state Department of Taxation and Finance:

  • 75% of the wholesale price on cigars and tobacco products (other than little cigars and snuff).
  • $4.35 per 20 little cigars.
  • $2 per container of snuff with one ounce or less.
  • $2 per ounce of snuff and a proportionate rate on any fractional amount for containers with more than one ounce.

Cortland County was one of the first counties in the state to make the age to purchase tobacco products 21 in 2016. The number of Cortland County 12th graders who smoked in the prior 30 days is down 67% since 2002, according to a survey of 2,000 Cortland County students from the 2018-19 school year by Cortland Area Communities that Care.

Tobacco is a leading cause of death and contributes to heart disease and stroke, Dr. Disha Mookherjee, cardiologist at Saratoga Hospital and member of the Capital Region Board of Directors at the American Heart Association, said in a release from the heart association.

“The World Health Organization recently said that smokers are likely more vulnerable to severe and potentially life threatening cases of COVID19,” Mookherjee said. “I see the damaging effects of tobacco use in my work every day, including the health disparities that Big Tobacco has created among certain communities, including Black and Latinx, LGBTQ, and those with lower incomes. Increasing tobacco taxes helps reverse the damage done by the industry.”

The heart association said increasing the tax and establishing a parity on other tobacco products would continue to lower the number of people using the products. It estimates 61,800 adults statewide would quit and 29,500 people under 18 wouldn’t become smokers.

“In addition, 24,400 premature smoking caused deaths would be prevented, and the 5-year reduction in the number of smoking affected pregnancies and births would be 6,000 people,” said Caitlin O’Brien, director of government relations in New York for the American Heart Association. “In addition, a $1 cigarette tax increase would bring in $30.4 million in new annual revenue.”

Larissa Larsen, who works at the Daily Grind on Main Street, Cortland said if the increase was to be enacted, fewer people would come in to get tobacco products. She said people are already upset over a 50-cent increase in their products due to the company they buy from increasing its prices.

“Definitely a lot of irritation with a lot of customers,” she said.