BY TRONE DOWD
Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill this week that lays out a multi-step plan to make it even tougher for the tobacco industry to take hold of the Big Apple.
The legislation was introduced by City Council members Corey Johnson, Brad Lander, Fernando Cabrera, Ritchie Torres and James Vacca. The seven-step plan is meant to pressure smokers into stopping the habit, thereby reducing the number of smokers in New York by 160,000 people by 2020. The mayor officially signed off on the plan on Monday.
“Even though tobacco is a leading cause of premature death across the country, Big Tobacco will stop at nothing to hook people on these deadly products,” de Blasio said. “We are sending a loud and clear message that we will not let their greed kill any more New Yorkers without a fight. These new laws will not only help reduce the number of smokers in our city, but also save lives.”
The steps that the city is taking includes the following: raising the minimum prices and imposing a 10 percent tax on tobacco products, banning the sale of tobacco in pharmacies, reducing the number of stores that sell tobacco products and increasing the license fee, creating unique licenses for the distribution of e-cigarettes, requiring all residential buildings to put a smoking policy in place and prohibiting the use of e-cigs in populated areas with fewer than 10 units.
In the past decade and a half, smoking rates have dipped considerably. According to the mayor’s office, city smokers made up 21.5 percent of the population in 2002. In 2015, that figure is just over 14 percent.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito commended the mayor’s stance on smoking.
“Tobacco kills thousands of New Yorkers each year and the council is proud of the city’s role as a national leader in enacting smart, effective tobacco control policies that save lives,” said Mark-Viverito. “This package of bills will further strengthen our already tough tobacco laws in order to help decrease the number of smokers across the city.”
Although the mayor’s efforts have been seen as progressive by his Democratic colleagues, New York smokers are not nearly as pleased.
Former Far Rockaway resident Jazmine Blakely, 22, told the Queens Tribune that the mayor’s strategy will not have an impact on frequent smokers.
“Yes, people will complain about the increased prices, but they are still going to buy it,” she said. “Just like alcohol, just like drugs—people will continue taking it, despite the laws that are put in place and despite the cost associated with it.”
Blakely said that she only smokes when she’s under stress, so the increase won’t hurt her pockets too much. She added that the bill is more of an annoyance than a deterrent.
“For me, it’s like, ‘Damn, another increase.’ But at the end of the day, if I want that pack, then I’ll buy it, regardless,” she said.
Jackson Heights resident, Alana Bennett, 24, said that she believes the bill will have an impact, but won’t cut the number of smokers down significantly.
“Inconvenience means nothing to a smoker who is craving a cigarette,” Bennett said. “It’s all about routine and all that will do is force the smoker to create a new routine. If I can’t buy them at CVS, I’ll just walk or drive down the block to the deli.”
Bennett said that increased pricing will also force smokers to get creative about where they’re getting their packs.
“There will always be delis that have special ‘$8 packs’ or something of that nature,” she said. “Personally speaking, I’m in [New] Jersey half the week, so that would just force me to purchase all my cigarettes there. Price tags and restrictions won’t do much when it comes to someone needing a nicotine fix.”
Astoria’s Rob Reinoso, 25, said that he understood the reason for the council’s plan, but added that jacking up prices was not the way to go.
“New York already has some of the highest prices in the U.S.,” he said. “Some people already pay close to $15 a pack. It just hurts delis and stores that sell them. Most delis in New York already sell cigarettes under the table, which just leads to issues with law enforcement.”
While he was not happy to hear that prices for cigarettes will go up, he said that he was pleased to see initiatives meant to keep the effects of second-hand smoke at bay.
“Let’s be real,” Reinoso said. “Second-hand smoke is hazardous in itself. I try to avoid smoking near people when I do. Trying to tax higher and charge more is just going to annoy people. I personally don’t care. I can go to Jersey or Long Island and get cheaper packs. I don’t even care if I have to just quit in general. But I think you have to let people quit on their own, not force them to.”