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New York State Exposed: Tobacco tax

Updated: 02/20/2014 6:18 PM
Created: 02/20/2014 6:44 AM WHEC.com
By: Amanda Ciavarri

There are so many taxes in New York State. They're hard to avoid. That's why we're helping you understand where your money is exactly going in our exclusive series New York State Exposed.

News10NBC is taking a look at a tax that target smokers. The tobacco tax has been around for years. But is the money going where it's needed?

News10NBC started looking into this because New York State has the highest tax on cigarettes in the country. When we talked with people to get their opinions, we were surprised by what we heard and you might be too. Smokers don't like paying more and some non-smokers are against the tax too. News10NBC followed the money from the checkout line to the state’s bank account.

Miguel Fraticelli, smoker, said, "Makes me feel trapped. I put myself in this predicament, so I have to pay, but I feel trapped.”

That’s what we heard from a number of smokers. The reason is the tobacco tax. Even some non-smokers surprised us when they too told us it’s another way for the state to get people's money. New York has the highest tobacco tax in the nation.

The average state tax on tobacco is $1.53 per pack. The lowest is Missouri with just 17 cents a pack.

New York rings up $4.35 per pack. To give you some perspective in 2000, it was $1.11.

Lawmakers say it is a money maker for the state, but it's also about deterring people from smoking.

Dr. Scott McIntosh said, “It is a very effective public health approach. For every 10% overall increase in the total cost if cigarettes, there is a real, up to, 7% decline in smoking.”

Amanda Ciavarri asked, “Explain to me how this is working, is this stopping kids from starting smoking? Is this deterring the person who has smoked for 20 years from continuing smoking or a little of both?”

McIntosh said, “A little of both. It comes down to disposable income. People with less access to disposable income are affected the most.”

News10NBC also asked Dr. Scott McIntosh from UR Medicine and the American Cancer Society how many people smoke in New York State. He says it's 16 percent of adults. That's about one out of every six men and women. The stats are about the same for teenagers. But the very people this tax is supposed to help are not so convinced it is helping them quit.

Samuel Baker, smoker, said, “We are dealing with nicotine, that's a drug, when you need nicotine, that's one of the hardest habits to kick. I don't see them using that money for campaigns to stop smoking. Most of that money goes into the general fund, so the government is talking about helping us; they are really just helping themselves.”

Whether you smoke or not, you might be shocked to hear where a majority of the tobacco tax money ends up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1998 to 2010, the state collected $244 billion from the tax. Only three percent or $8.1 billion was earmarked for tobacco control efforts, which includes a state hotline and website that offers free resources, all to help smokers kick the habit.

This study is over a 12 year period, so how does the tobacco tax break down year-to-year for control efforts?

McIntosh said, “They give $39 million for the operating budget for the Bureau of Tobacco Control. The CDC says that should be $203 million and just five years ago, it was at $85 million.”

With a whopping 97 percent of this tax going into the general fund, just like the tax you pay on gas, sales tax and state fees your charged including your car inspection, is this tax really just a money grab after all?


Ciavarri asked, “If this tax is about deterring people, how can they say the high tax on businesses is not about deterring business?”

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said, “Well, your logic is perfect and right on.”

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb feels this is an unfair tax, because it targets a group of people. He says he supports efforts for helping people to quit, but doesn't think the tax is the best way for that.

Kolb said, “Educate them about health effects and the more you can do that the more educational and better choices they may, rather than tax.”

If you know someone who smokes and wants help quitting, they can call the state quit line at 1-866-NY-QUITS or go to www.nysmokefree.com.



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