Cigarette Discounts Prey on the Poor

Dr. Kurt Ribisl

Dr. Kurt Ribisl

Dr. Kurt Ribisl conducts research in the area of tobacco control and specializes in youth access to tobacco products.  We asked him what he thought about the proposed Sensible Tobacco Enforcement Act that is being considered by the NY City Council.  Here’s what he said:

“Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to regulate the sales and marketing of tobacco products at New York City retailers will decrease the appeal and use of tobacco products, particularly among youth.

One of the bills the Mayor proposed, the Sensible Tobacco Enforcement (STE) Act, raises retailer penalties for selling untaxed or bootleg cigarettes. NYC is losing hundreds of millions of dollars to illicit cigarette trade, and this bill protects the business interests of honest retailers who abide by the law.

This bill also prohibits tobacco companies from discounting cigarettes and giving customers a free pack when they buy a pack.   Price discounts and coupons are used by tobacco companies to selectively prey on low income and minority smokers in neighborhoods where they know their customers are more sensitive to prices. It is no surprise that the smoking rate is 29% for people living below the poverty line and 18% for those above it.  A 2010 Harvard study[1] found that in poor compared to higher income Boston neighborhoods, cigarettes were 41 cents cheaper, tobacco ads were larger, and stores were more likely to feature tobacco ads.

Some critics argue that Mr. Bloomberg does not care about poor people.  That criticism rings especially hollow, given that the tobacco industry through their marketing campaigns has caused disproportionate sickness and premature death among poor people for decades. New York City has a chance to pass landmark policies that will reduce smoking rates, particularly among children and the poor.  This is sound policy for the Big Apple.”


Kurt M. Ribisl, PhD
Professor, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
Director, Cancer Prevention and Control, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

[1]  Seidenberg AB, Caughey RW, Rees VW, Connolly GN. Storefront cigarette advertising differs by community demographic  profile. Am J Health Promot. 2010;24(6):e26-31.