De Blasio Backs Plan to Lift Base Price of Pack of Cigarettes to $13

19 April 2017:

A tobacco seller on Washington Avenue in Brooklyn. The de Blasio administration is moving to sharply cut the number of stores that can sell tobacco. CreditStephen Speranza for The New York Times

Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged his support on Wednesday to a series of initiatives to cut tobacco use, proposing to raise the minimum price of a pack of cigarettes in New York City to $13 and vowing to sharply reduce, over time, the number of stores that may sell tobacco products.

Raising the minimum price of a pack to $13, from the current $10.50 minimum, would make New York the most expensive place in the nation to buy cigarettes, city officials said.

The goal, Mr. de Blasio said, is to persuade or coerce 160,000 of the 900,000 New York City residents who smoke to stop doing so by 2020.

In pushing the anti-tobacco measures, the mayor, more than three years into his term, has come to embrace a major public health movement that was closely associated with his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who made the city a leader in efforts to reduce tobacco use.

Many of the initiatives had been on Mr. de Blasio’s desk for well over a year before he took action, to the consternation of public health and antismoking activists who feared that the city was failing to build on earlier gains.

The proposed initiatives would also set minimum prices and create taxes on other types of tobacco products, like smokeless tobacco and small cigars.

About 12,000 New Yorkers a year die from smoking-related illnesses, officials said.

“What we’re here today talking about is saving lives,” said Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the city’s health commissioner, who appeared with the mayor at a news conference at the Midtown Manhattan offices of the American Heart Association. “We want to make it easier to quit and harder to smoke.”

In 2002, when Mr. Bloomberg took office, 21.5 percent of adult New Yorkers smoked, according to the Health Department. As Mr. Bloomberg banned smoking in bars and restaurants and set a minimum price for cigarettes, the rate fell to 14 percent by 2012, and it has fluctuated since.

“The single most effective way to reduce smoking, especially among kids, is to raise the price,” said Kevin O’Flaherty, a director of advocacy for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Mr. de Blasio said his program consisted of several measures that would be considered as legislation by the City Council.

One measure would, over time, significantly reduce the number of stores allowed to sell tobacco products.

Under a bill introduced in the council this month, the number of licenses issued to retailers to sell tobacco products in each of the city’s 59 community board districts would be set at half the current level. The reduction would be achieved gradually through attrition, because current license holders would be allowed to retain and renew their licenses.

There are about 9,000 stores or other locations licensed to sell tobacco products in the city. Dr. Bassett, the health commissioner, said the number was expected to drop below 6,000 over 10 years.

Philadelphia and San Francisco have put in place similar licensing restrictions.

A study by the American Cancer Society found that as of October, 8,992 retail outlets were licensed to sell tobacco in New York. About a third of those were within 500 feet of a school.

Other studies have shown that tobacco sellers are disproportionately concentrated in poor neighborhoods.

Another proposal would prohibit pharmacies from selling tobacco products. Councilman Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, said about 550 pharmacies currently sold cigarettes and other tobacco products.

As part of the package, the sellers of electronic cigarettes would be required for the first time to obtain licenses; after an initial period, no new licenses would be issued. Another initiative would require landlords to disclose rules on tobacco use in apartment buildings; if prospective tenants prefer smoke-free buildings, city officials hope that could provide an incentive for landlords to bar cigarette smoking in apartments.

Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat who is the chairman of the City Council health committee, said that he had long struggled with addiction and that while he had quit drinking and taking drugs, he could not break his tobacco habit.

“It was easier to quit drinking and using illegal drugs than it is to quit smoking,” he said.

Health officials presented Mr. de Blasio with a similar package of measures in the second half of 2015. In March 2016, he said in a television interview that he would unveil anti-tobacco initiatives within weeks. More than a year passed before his announcement on Wednesday.

“Since we came in, I’ve focused on opening up whole new veins in the fight for health and safety,” Mr. de Blasio said of the delay, citing initiatives to increase mental health services, reduce traffic fatalities and fight crime.

“We were balancing a lot of factors,” he added. “It was a question of sequencing everything.”

Asked when the City Council would pass the bills, Mr. de Blasio said, “The sooner the better.”