City Hall Proposes Highest Tobacco Prices in Nation to Snuff Smoking Rates

The Mayor's Office and a number of City Council Members are pushing a slew of new anti-smoking measures, this time targeting tobacco sellers. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.

New Yorkers may soon have to shell out $13 for a pack of cigarettes, the highest price in the country. The mayor says he wants to raise the price from $10.50 a pack to discourage people from smoking. 

"It's a price increase. It's a mandated price increase," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "Companies, unfortunately, do get that money in. But since we are driving down demand, we think it nets out in favor of both health and ultimately knocks down the customer base. 

To keep Albany lawmakers from interfering, the city is not technically increasing cigarette taxes, which means sellers get to pocket any extra profits. The higher price tags will, however, hit lower-income New Yorkers the hardest.

"It is a regressive tax in that it is a flat tax," said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. "For people for whom this will be an incentive not to smoke, I say that's a good deal."

The mayor says he wants the number of smokers in the city to drop from 900,000 to 740,000 by the year 2020.

"It was easier for me to quit drinking and using illegal drugs than it has been for me to quit smoking," said City Councilman Corey Johnson of Manhattan.

Along with the price hike for cigarettes, other bills being introduced in the City Council include legislation to limit the number of stores that can sell tobacco, and create and limit licenses for e-cigarettes. There is also legislation to force residential buildings to create rules around smoking, and to prohibit pharmacies from selling tobacco.

"There will be a fight over this, I guarantee it. Big tobacco watches New York City very carefully. Historically they have stopped at nothing," de Blasio said. "But we are resolved to beat them and turn the tide in NYC."

City Council hearings on the legislation are expected to start in the coming weeks. The mayor says he hopes the legislation is passed by the end of the year. 

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