On January 12, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a plan to raise the minimum age for tobacco and e-cigarette sales from 18 to 21 in the 2019 executive budget.
“We have made great strides to stamp out teen smoking,” said Cuomo, “but new products threaten to undo this progress to the detriment of millions of Americans. In New York, we refuse to stand idly by while unscrupulous businesses target our young people and put their very futures at risk.”
Elsewhere in the budget, yet not mentioned in the press release, Cuomo includes a “Health Tax on Vapor Products.” This “excise tax of 10 cents per fluid milliliter on vapor products at the distributor level” aims to equalize “the tax treatment of tobacco products and the equivalent products used in e‐cigarettes.” This could rise even higher in the future, with a bill currently under consideration in the State Senate that would raise the excise tax to 25 cents.
Although taxes on cigarettes remain far higher in New York State, with a state excise tax rate of $4.35 per package of 20 cigarettes, harm reduction advocates say that the tax increase—and possible further increases—could negatively impact consumers with limited means.
“All these arguments forget that adult cigarette smokers who need to switch are often price-sensitive,” tweeted Dr. Sheila Vakharia of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Furthermore, the tax’s aim to continue “the State’s objective to reduce the use of tobacco products,” as described in the Executive Budget Briefing Book, will fall short, according to Dr. Vakharia. “White upper class teens on the UWS [Upper West Side of NYC] who like to Juul have allowances.” Likewise, a study in the Nicotine & Tobacco Research journal found that people with more education—associated with higher incomes—”are more likely to switch to exclusive e-cigarette use than less educated smokers.”
Cuomo’s 2019 executive budget also strives to eliminate juice flavors, similar to the FDA’s strategy announced in November 2018. It proposes to “provide the Department of Health the authority to ban the sale of certain flavored liquids that target youth use of e-cigarettes.” The DoH will then have the power to clarify the FDA’s 2009 ban on flavored combustible cigarettes, by applying a similar ban on the juice flavors “sweet tart, toffee, and bubble gum,” which the press release claims “make e-cigarettes more attractive to youth.”
But prohibitionists ignore that flavors are also a motivation for adults seeking to switch to vaping, which is estimated to be 95 percent safer than smoking, and away from more harmful products. According to a 2017 study, teens were not the only groups preferring sweet flavors. Rather, “Fruit and candy flavors predominated for all groups,” which included “youth ” (12–17 years old), “young adults” (18–29 years old), and “older adults” (over 30). Furthermore, a preference for flavors other than tobacco was “more common among former cigarette smokers.”
Additional legislation proposed by Cuomo seeks to end the sale of tobacco and e-cigarette products in pharmacies, restrict e-cigarette marketing from stores that are not adult-only, and require a license to sell vaping products.