HARTFORD, CT — Those who wage war against tobacco companies are praising New York City for its decision this week to hike the price of a pack of cigarettes to a minimum of $13 and wish Connecticut would consider following the lead of its neighbor.
“They did it right in New York,” Bryte Johnson, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Connecticut, said Tuesday.
Not only is the cost of cigarettes skyrocketing but the number of places you can buy them is going down under legislation.
The new minimum price law, which takes effect on June 1, will make New York the most expensive place in the U.S. to buy cigarettes, Health Department officials said.
“We are sending a loud and clear message that we will not let their greed kill any more New Yorkers without a fight,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a bill signing ceremony at a Brooklyn hospital Monday. “These new laws will not only help reduce the number of smokers in our city, but also save lives.”
Currently, the minimum allowed price per pack is $10.50 in New York City.
The planned price hike is one of seven bills the Democratic mayor signed Monday aimed at pressuring the city’s 900,000 estimated smokers to quit.
Another new rule will reduce by half the number of retailers licensed to sell tobacco products. About 8,300 businesses now have a license. The numbers will be reduced through attrition, officials said. Philadelphia and San Francisco have similar licensing restrictions.
Other laws will ban the sale of all tobacco products in pharmacies, require licensing of e-cigarette retailers and require all residential buildings to have smoking policies that are given to all current and prospective tenants.
New York began a regulatory war on smoking under the previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent. The city has long subscribed to a theory that driving up prices, either through high taxes or by setting price minimums, causes people to either give up smoking or not start.
Smoking rates in New York City have declined from 21.5 percent in 2002 to about 14.3 in 2015. City health officials said they believed the new restrictions could decrease the rate to 12 percent by 2020.
“We are strongly supportive of the package of bills signed into law in New York, including the increase in the per pack price of cigarettes,” Johnson said. “As a result, they’ll likely see a drop in use rates and improved health.”
In Connecticut, efforts to cut back on smoking by hiking the cost of a pack of cigarettes have been more timid.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget and also the one pushed by the House Democrats call for a 45 cents per pack increase on the sales tax for pack of cigarettes, from $3.90 to $4.35, which would push the average cost of a pack to around $10.
“That’s not enough,” Johnson said. “That kind of tax increase doesn’t have any real impact. Smokers won’t be happy with it, but they’ll just absorb it.”
“To have any real impact the tax increase would have to be a minimum of 10 percent,” Johnson said, which would increase the cost of cigarettes about a $1 a pack.
An attempt to raise the legal age for the purchase and use of tobacco products from 18 to 21 never made it through the legislature this year.
During debate over the bill last year, it was estimated raising the age would result in a $43 million revenue loss for the state.
During a public hearing on the bill, Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon said her department “supports the concept of this bill while acknowledging that it must be considered in the largest context of state budget as its passage would create revenue loss for the state.”
Johnson also noted that Connecticut, along with New Jersey, are the only two states that don’t spend any money on smoking cessation programs. Instead, it sweeps the money into its general fund.
“Despite Connecticut receiving hundreds of millions in annual tobacco tax revenue as well as over $100 million per year from the Master Settlement Agreement with Big Tobacco—payments that were intended to help offset the massive health care costs as a result of tobacco use—the state hasn’t budgeted a penny towards non-Medicaid tobacco control programs since 2015,” Johnson said.
He added: “Tragically, 4,900 adults will die in Connecticut from smoking this year while 1,500 kids will become smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Public Health. That’s 13 deaths a day at a cost of $230,000 every hour, every day for a tragedy that is entirely preventable yet the response from our state government is to do nothing.”