By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The ban on cigarettes sales to anyone under the age of 21 isn’t the only anti-smoking measure the City Council approved on Wednesday. Buried deep within most of the news stories was the fact that the council also voted for a bill that sets a minimum price of $10.50 a pack for cigarettes and prohibits retailers from offering discounts on tobacco products.
CNN reported that the bill, which the council called “Sensible Tobacco Enforcement,” also increases the penalties for retailers who evade tobacco taxes.
“More than 80 percent of adult smokers in NYC start smoking before age 21, so raising the sales age to 21 will protect teens and may prevent many people from ever starting to smoke,” the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, said in a statement. “The Sensible Tobacco Enforcement law will prohibit discounting and crack down on illegal untaxed cigarette sales, both of which attract young people to smoking. These two laws will protect our young people from the marketing of tobacco and represent historic advances in our fight against New York City’s leading killer.”
But while the Bloomberg Administration is applauding the council’s actions, groups representing retailers are chaffing at the new rules.
Banning tobacco product discounts and coupons, and setting a $10.50-per-pack minimum price floor for cigarettes, imposes significant business challenges to retail stores who are already struggling to compete, according to the Save Our Stores Coalition.
The coalition claims that 5,000 retailers are opposed to the council's legislation.
"Instead of saving our stores, Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council could be feeding our businesses to the black marketeers who sell tobacco products illegally at lower prices,” said Thomas Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets.
“By further inflating the price adult smokers have to pay for legal tobacco products, these regulations will only serve to further fuel unregulated black market sales and harm New York City retailers. While we applaud the City for taking steps to improve enforcement of illegal tobacco sales, which they readily acknowledge is a serious problem, their actions to raise prices and end pricing promotions have created an even greater incentive for criminals to profit by thwarting the law,” Briant said.
"Our members are the important ‘front-line’ against youth access to tobacco products. We take this role seriously and are proud of our contribution to the recent decline in underage tobacco sales. These regulations will undermine the success of our efforts by driving people to illegal sellers who do not care about the age of the buyers," said Ramon Murphy, president of the Bodega Association of the US.
Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, said the new regulations could translate into job losses for New Yorkers.
“In order to manage the financial impacts of these new regulations, 58 percent (of store owners) said that they would have to consider cutting back on payroll costs and 55 percent said they'd consider employee layoffs. With unemployment still close to 9 percent and hundreds of thousands still unable to find work, this is just another case of the wrong policies at the wrong time," Calvin said.
The New York Times reported that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to sign the bills into law.