Cigarette taxes would increase by $1 and flavored tobacco products like menthol cigarettes would be banned under a proposal backed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in her State of the State agenda this year.
It's being cheered by anti-smoking advocates as a potentially life-saving policy. Convenience stores, however, argue the move would do little to prevent smoking and hinder business.
And prior efforts to ban menthol cigarettes have been met with an aggressive lobbying campaign to sink the proposal.
Hochul's plan would increase the per-pack tax for cigarettes from $4.35 to $5.35, making the highest tax of any state even higher. If approved, it would be the first tax increase in a decade for cigarettes in New York.
An analysis by the American Cancer Society Action Network, which has backed the tax increase, found thousands of lives could be saved as a result.
"Increasing the cigarette tax is going to save the lives of over 15,000 New Yorkers," said Michael Davoli, the group's government relations director.
Hochul's proposal, coupled with the flavored tobacco ban, would lead to more people to not take up smoking, Davoli said. Many of those people are expected to be kids.
"Every time they've increased taxes, you would see a decrease in the number of smokers," he said.
Revenue from New York's cigarette taxes is directed toward anti-smoking programs and campaigns. But spending for those efforts has not kept pace over the last 10 years, said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Around $1 billion is raised from cigarette tax revenue. New York spends about $35 million on anti-tobacco efforts, Horner said.
"The state still falls far short for what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say what the minimum should be spent in New York, which is around $140 million," Horner said.
Tobacco groups, meanwhile, could swing into action to prevent the ban on menthol cigarettes, considered a key part of their business.
"The tobacco industry has long used its political muscle to block public health measures," Horner said. "That's why for years, you could smoke in many, many public places."
Still, New York lawmakers have approved measures meant to curb tobacco use. The minimum age to purchase tobacco in the state is now 21 after lawmakers raised the age from 18.
The state in 2020 also put in place a ban on flavored nicotine vaping products in order to cut down on use among young people.
But New York Association of Convenience Stores President Kent Sopris said higher taxes will only lead to more people buying cigarettes illegally at cheaper prices.
"What you will see is an increase in our elicit market that already exists in New York state," Sopris said.
State health officials report New York's smoking rate stands at 12% of all adults, lower than the national average of more than 15%.
"Part of the reason for this is in addition to the cessation programs is because these products are sold in a regulated, taxed environment through legal means," Sopris said.
And some Republican lawmakers, like Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick, are skeptical, pointing to the cannabis market coming together in New York.
"We don't want them to smoke, but we want them to smoke marijuana," he said. "I mean, there's a disconnect here."