BUFFALO, N.Y. — Opponents, including the New York Association of Convenience Stores, have pushed back hard since the governor proposed in her budget a ban of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.
"It wouldn't have any impact on smoking. It would just merely force consumers to find another place for their tobacco products," association President Ken Sopris said.
Sopris believes the ban would push consumers to the illicit market, Native American reservations and other states, and away from the 7,500 stores across New York he represents.
"These are small businesses that stayed open during COVID. These are businesses that were essential, where people went and got their products during a really scary time, and we just want to sell legal and safe products and pay our taxes," he said.
Sopris said when a similar ban went into place in Massachusetts, sales skyrocketed in neighboring states while only reducing the smoking rate .5%.
However, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center Health and Behavior Department chair Andrew Hyland says studies show while most people will switch to regular flavors, vaping or drive to other states, the quit rate with a ban does increase 30%.
"(There are) fewer kids starting, more adults quitting, with the bottom line of increasing the health and saving costs in the community," Hyland said.
This week, the state Senate and Assembly chose not to include the ban in their counter proposals for the state budget.
"We're only in the middle of March, so a lot can happen until April 1, but even after April 1, the policymaking happens after April 1," Hyland said.
Sopris acknowledged, as well, the final outcome is not yet decided.
"You never know until it's over really," he said. "We are pleased that it seems the Legislature has heard us. We're moving in the right direction."
Hyland said he is pleased the Legislature is signaling support for the governor's plan for an additional dollar tax on cigarettes and more funding for the state's cessation program, and says, in general, the dialogue that has happened this year and will continue to happen over the next several weeks and months is a good thing.
"You can't deny the adverse health impact that cigarettes place on all New Yorkers and particularly those racial ethnic minorities, low-income, uninsured; tens of thousands of people dying every year from cigarette attributable diseases," he said.
The convenience stores, meanwhile, will also continue to lobby lawmakers remove the additional tax during budget negotiations. They believe it will have many of the same unintended consequences as the ban.