A ban on flavored tobacco products like menthol cigarettes has been rejected by Democratic state lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate throwing into doubt whether the measure can be included in a final state budget deal in the coming weeks.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has backed the menthol and flavored cigarette ban in her $227 billion budget proposal along with a $1 increase in the per-pack cigarette tax.
Anti-tobacco advocates have praised the potential ban, calling it necessary to help reduce the number of people who are smoking in New York. But business organizations, including convenience store representatives, have said the ban would negatively affect their operations and single out people of color by law enforcement.
But Democrats in both chambers in budget proposals made public on Tuesday left the provision out of their own spending plans, which are set to be voted on later this week. A final budget deal is expected by April 1.
The legislative budget plans, however, kept the $1 tax increase. The move would hike the cigarette tax from $4.35 to $5.35, making New York the highest-tax state for cigarettes.
“We appreciate that the legislature rejected the prohibitionist and inflammatory flavor ban out of their one-house budget proposals, however, we continue to be very concerned about the inclusion of a regressive cigarette tax," said Kent Sopris, the New York Association of Convenience Stores. “Higher taxes, like bans, only lead to consumers leaving legitimate and tax paying retailers in search of lower priced products on the illicit market. Jobs will be lost and crime will increase.”
Anti-smoking advocates pointed to the effect the added tax revenue would have on funding anti-tobacco programs in the state. But Hazel Dukes, the president of NAACP New Yrok State, called the move to not include the flavored tobacco ban disappointing.
"Banning menthol-flavored products will save the lives of thousands of New Yorkers - mostly Black and brown smokers - and our children will be much less likely to pick up the deadly habit. In the coming weeks, our coalition of civil rights and public health advocates will stand with New Yorkers from around the state to ask lawmakers a simple question: do you stand with Big Tobacco and their profits, or with the Black and brown communities being targeted by their dangerous products every day?" she said.