$1 tax hike encourages quitting, keeps NYS cigarettes most expensive in nation

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The price of cigarettes in New York State jumped Friday, as a new $1 excise tax went into effect.

The excise – or per unit – tax is now $5.35 per pack. That price keeps New York’s cigarettes the most expensive in the nation. Prior to this hike, the average cost of a pack was around $12.

Experts say the one-dollar jump is expected to single-handedly cut the amount of people smoking in new York by about 4%. Lexi Popovici with the Smoking Health Action Coalition of Livingston and Monroe County (SHAC) said roughly 15,000 people will try to quit. On top of that, about 14,000 kids are expected to never start because of the increase.

“Raising the tobacco tax is a really effective way to promote smoking cessation, but also prevent youth initiation of these products,” she said.

That’s because kids are considered a “price-sensitive” group, Popovici explained. They’re also a particularly vulnerable one — with 90% of smokers starting before the age of 18.

But people won’t be stopping just because it’s more expensive. Dr. Andrew Hyland is the Director of Behavioral Health at Buffalo’s Roswell Park Cancer Center. He said the price hike is also just an opportunity to take the plunge and try to quit.

“It’s not the sole driver, this is not a magic bullet, but this is one of the most consistently effective strategies to reduce cigarette consumption,” he said. “And when you couple it with other factors like public education, working with healthcare providers and then other efforts to see people quit smoking […]  We’ll see call increases for a few months.”

Those calls will be made to the New York State Quitline, which Dr. Hyland helps run. He said many folks he speaks with say they regret smoking, and are looking for a chance to change.

“They’ll go to the store to buy their next pack and look at the price and say, wow, this is too much, I’m done. That’s enough, I’m done, today’s the day I’m going to quit,” he said.

For those who are trying to quit, Hyland had this message: “Congratulations, you’ve made the most important decision in taking that first step, to go there.”

The next best steps quitters can take is finding support. He encourages seeking social support from friends and family – let them in on your plan, and let them help keep you accountable.

He also encourages smokers to talk to their healthcare provider, or a treatment specialist. Quitting is a highly individual journey, and not every trick will work for everybody.

Finally, he encourages people to reach out to one of the many, many free resources online. New York State’s quitline can be reached via phone, text, or visited online at nysmokefree.com. They offer free FDA-approved quitting kits, that contain things like nicotine replacement medication. Their number is 1-866-NYQUITS (1-866-697-8487). Other free resources include articles from the American Lung Association.

Popovici said that SHAC applauds New York State in particular for “leading the way” in smoking policies. But she said there’s always more work to be done. Another area of focus for this group is banning menthol – a mint-tasting chemical used in vapes and cigarettes. Popovici explained that menthol has a cooling sensation, which allows the smoker to inhale more, getting more nicotine into their lungs per puff.

This delivers a bigger head rush, and, in turn, makes it harder to quit.

Both Hyland and Popovici emphasized the importance of quitting – no matter how long it’s been since you started.

“It’s not so easy — millions of people have quit, there’s going to be some bumps along the road and that’s okay,” Dr. Hyland said. “Each time you do make an effort to get off of cigarettes for good, it’s a learning experience. You gain that experience and you learn what the cues and triggers are, and you’re better for it.”