New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Department of Health commissioned a survey distributed to state and county leaders exploring a ban on all tobacco products, despite lawmakers’ declining support to prohibit menthol cigarettes and other flavored products.
According to an April 13 memo from Jennifer Lee, director of the Health Department’s Bureau of Tobacco Control, obtained by The New York Post, researchers from RTI International organization disseminated the survey to “community leaders” statewide, including “county legislators and county directors of public health.”
“What is your opinion about a policy that would end the sale of all tobacco products in New York within 10 years?” was among the questions asked last week in the “New York Local Opinion Leaders Survey,” examined by the Post.
Other questions asked officials about limiting the number of retailers who can sell “products in a community,” prohibiting its sales near schools, and banning the sale of all tobacco products to those born after a specific date.
“For example, those born after the year 2010 or later would never be sold tobacco,” the survey read.
According to the outlet, the move from Hochul’s administration signals the governor’s intention to remove tobacco sales in New York. One insider told The Post they “have never seen anything like this where [the state] uses this kind of focus grouping, alliance building, momentum building.”
“An outright ban being considered … is all new territory,” the insider said.
Health Department spokesman Cort Ruddy told The Post the questions asked in the survey “do not indicate whether the department supports or opposes the policies they highlight,” adding that the department has been conducting similar surveys on “tobacco, youth vaping, and other important topics for more than a decade.”
Soliciting the opinion of local leaders “is crucial for effective public health,” Ruddy said.
New York State lawmakers rejected Hochul’s proposal to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products last month after she first announced it in February as part of the Governor’s 2023-2024 fiscal year budget, which the Post reported would cost the state $133 million in lost tax revenues in the fiscal year that began on April 1 – and $255 million more in 2025.
According to the state’s Health Department, the tobacco industry spends $9.1 billion annually on marketing and promoting its products in the U.S. That’s about $1 million per hour.
State officials estimated $177.3 million is spent in the Empire State each year, accusing industry leaders of specifically targeting black communities with menthol tobacco products.
“In New York State, menthol cigarettes are used by over half of all adult smokers (52%), while 86% of black and 72% of Hispanic smokers exclusively smoke menthol cigarettes,” the department said in a February news release.
New York lawmakers have passed policies centralizing more control over tobacco products in the past few years. In 2019, state officials raised the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco to 21. The following year, lawmakers ended the sale of all tobacco products in pharmacies, restricted the sale of flavored e-liquids and online sales of all vaping products, using coupons and other discounts that lower the cost of tobacco products, and implemented a tax on vapor products.
However, tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in New York and the rest of the nation.
“Approximately 1.7 million New Yorkers continue to smoke cigarettes,” the health department said. “Every year in New York, smoking kills 28,000 adults and a projected 280,000 children now under the age of 18 and alive in New York State will die prematurely from smoking.”
Still, convenience store owners argue implementing a ban would not stop people from smoking tobacco and likely put many stores out of business, citing smokers would purchase products online, in the black market, or across state lines to get their preferred pack of smokes.
“I think it would be bizarre for the state to create another category of illegal product that could lead to more conflict between law enforcement and the community,” Kent Sopris, president of the New York Association of Convenience Store Owners, told The Post.
Sopris further slammed Hochul after the governor launched a public awareness campaign last week that encouraged New Yorkers to buy marijuana products sold legally at cannabis dispensaries after lawmakers legalized it in 2021.
“If you are out there advocating for the expanded sale of retail cannabis that sells candied flavored options, how can you tell regulated legal convenience stores they can’t sell menthol cigarettes to adults?” Sopris said.
Earlier this year, Sopris suggested to local media that lawmakers should use a tax system to lower the smoking rate instead of increasing taxes or banning categories.