Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking aim at New York City’s smokers, hitting them where it may hurt the most: their wallets.
De Blasio, flanked by members of his administration and anti-smoking advocates, announced Wednesday a package of bills that aim to reduce the number of smokers in the city by 160,000 over the next three years.
“Unfortunately, even after all the fights, after all the years, after all the victories, big tobacco is still very strong in this country. And big tobacco is still public enemy number one for public health,” de Blasio said during a news conference at the American Heart Association in midtown, Manhattan.
Among the five bills introduced to the City Council is legislation to raise the minimum price for cigarettes and other tobacco products to $13 a pack – up from the current $10.50. The spike in price is expected to lead to a 6.4 percent drop in cigarette smoking among adults, per the mayor’s office.
The proposed legislation, sponsored by Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), also includes the city’s first-ever 10 percent tax on other tobacco products. The move would generate $1 million in additional revenue, which would then be used to bolster public housing, the mayor’s office said.
“As a former smoker, I know how hard it is to quit,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in an emailed statement. “These bills will make it less likely that New Yorkers will start smoking and easier for New Yorkers who smoke to quit, helping thousands of people lead longer, healthier lives.”
But Audrey Silk, founder of the smokers advocacy group NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, said de Blasio's plan will only lead to more crime.
"Not only will more adults, and especially minors intent on smoking, turn even more to bootleggers -- who don't ask for ID -- for their cigarettes, effectively producing no increase in revenue or a decline in smoking, but it will increase all kinds of crime, Silk said in an emailed statement.
"Bodegas already experience robberies and burglaries where their stock of cigarettes are targeted. Turf wars will increase between the bootleggers, leading to shootings," she added.
There are currently about 900,000 smokers in New York City, according to the mayor's office. De Blasio’s initiative hopes to reduce the smoking rate from 14.3 percent in 2015 to a historic low of 12 percent by 2020.
Another bill in de Blasio's plan, by Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), would prohibit pharmacies, or stores that contain pharmacies, from selling tobacco products. There are more than 550 such pharmacies in the city with tobacco-selling licenses.
Lander also sponsored a bill that would eventually cut the number of retailers allowed to sell tobacco by half in each community district. No current tobacco retailer would lose its license under the bill, but no new ones would be issued until the district’s number is below the cap.
A store owner who sells the business would be able to transfer the license and be unaffected by the cap, said Lorelei Salas, commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs.
The bill comes on the heels of a report released earlier in the week by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network that said there are 8,992 tobacco retailers in the city -- more than the number of Starbucks pizzeria locations combined.
The other bills would create a new e-cigarette license and require residential buildings to create a smoking policy.
With Matthew Chayes