In the last 50 years, we’ve made tremendous progress in reducing the burden of tobacco. Here are some milestones from the last 50 years in tobacco control:
As 2013 draws to a close, I reflect on the progress we’ve made over the past year to raise awareness around tobacco control in New York City and the country. By partnering with community members and health advocates, and then educating policy makers, we’ve supported efforts that we believe will effect long-term, positive change and protect public health.
Here’s our Top Ten list for 2013:
1. Three new smoke-free laws
New York City became the first major city in the country to raise the legal sale age for tobacco products to 21. Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council also passed legislation to stop tobacco industry discount schemes; and prohibit the smoking of electronic cigarettes in indoor public places and workplaces, including bars and restaurants. These bold and groundbreaking smoke-free laws should help reduce youth smoking rates in our City and serve as models for the rest of the United States and the world.
On Tuesday, November 19, 2013, Mayor Bloomberg signed landmark legislation making New York City the first major city in the country to raise to 21 the minimum sale age for cigarettes, cigars, and electronic cigarettes. The Mayor also signed a law that will stop tobacco industry discounting schemes, set a $10.50 price floor for a pack of cigarettes or little cigars, and crack down on cigarette tax evasion.
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.
Some NYC convenience store owners claim that Mayor Bloomberg and City Council’s proposed tobacco control legislation will reduce the number of tobacco retailers in our City and cause the loss of retail jobs.
We’ve heard this argument before. Ten years ago, the NYC Smoke-Free Air Act went into effect to ensure that all New Yorkers would be able to breathe clean, smoke-free air in the workplace, regardless of whether they work in a high-rise office or neighborhood restaurant or bar. Many people opposed the bill, and they tried to stop it. They warned of dire predictions about how the ban would lead to job losses and lost tax revenue.
They were wrong.
Raising cigarette prices is one of the most effective ways to prevent and reduce smoking, especially among youth. Research shows that every 10 percent increase in the real price of cigarettes reduces overall cigarette consumption by approximately three to five percent and the number of youth who smoke by six or seven percent.
New York City has the highest state-local tax on cigarettes in the country. Youth smoking in our city declined from 17.6% in 2001 to 8.5% in 2007. But it has remained level since then. More work needs to be done to bring down youth smoking rates and prevent kids from lighting up.
The recent proposal by Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council will increase prices on tobacco products in an effort to reduce youth smoking. A set of “Sensible Tobacco Enforcement and Pricing” (STEP) initiatives would work to stop trafficking of illegal untaxed cigarettes, restrict the use of the coupons and price discounts, and create a price floor for a pack of cigarettes.
The Department of Finance and the Sheriff’s office have been vigilant in their efforts to stop counterfeiting and the illegal trafficking of untaxed cigarettes. A growing body of evidence supports the connection between cigarette trafficking and organized crime because it provides large profits with lower risks than other criminal activities such as drug dealing.
Other states are not as rigorous in their pricing and tax strategies as New York State. Near New York, Virginia is a low-taxed state. North and South Carolina don’t require a tax stamp on cigarettes. Stores that sell cigarettes ondo not charge sales tax because they are not subject to US federal or state taxes.
On March 18, 2013, Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council announced new legislation that would make New York City the first in the nation to keep tobacco products out of sight in retail stores. This bold step would protect youth from Big Tobacco’s marketing tactics and reduce youth smoking.
Despite past success, youth smoking rates have stalled, and tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in New York City. According to a recent Surgeon General report, 88 percent of adult smokers start by the age of 18. Under the new proposal, tobacco products can still be sold, but retailers will no longer be able to display tobacco products prominently and in plain view of youth and other customers.