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.
New York City’s bar and restaurant industry is thriving, and its workers are breathing cleaner, smoke-free air. Just one year after the law went into effect, business tax receipts in NYC restaurants and bars had increased by 8.7% and employment in restaurants and bars had increased by 10,600 jobs.
The current proposals will not hurt business, be easy to implement, and recoup millions of dollars in lost revenue—but more important, they will reduce youth access and addiction to tobacco products and ultimately save lives.
More than ten countries have already instituted a tobacco product display ban, and they have not seen a loss of revenue. Smokers loyal to particular brands are still able to buy their cigarettes, and retailers are now able to display and receive promotional allowances for other products besides cigarettes.
Keeping tobacco products out of sight can be done very easily and cheaply. Cigarettes can simply be placed below the counter or they can be covered with an inexpensive curtain or screen.
Studies have found that reductions in smoking do not hurt overall business at convenience stores. Stores in countries who adopted a display ban have not closed. In fact, smokers who quit buy other products, leading to more productive economic activity.
The Department of Finance reports that about half of the inspected retail stores in New York are currently selling illegal cigarettes, resulting in an enormous loss of tax revenue. The proposed legislation would reduce smuggling of cigarettes by increasing penalties for retailers possessing, trafficking or selling illegal cigarettes. If caught, stores would lose their license to sell tobacco products, but also Lotto tickets as well—a big money maker for convenience stores.
Increased penalties will also support those honest retailers who refused to deal with smugglers and sell cigarettes from out of state. The proposed legislation will simply level the playing field for those stores who play by the rules. And we would recoup millions of dollars in lost City and State excise tax revenue.
The proposed legislation will also create a price floor for a pack of cigarettes. This won’t hurt retailers. It will work to increase profit margins for honest retailers since they won’t have to compete with retailers who had sold cheaper, illegal cigarettes. Price discounts reduce prices for consumers, not retailers, so eliminating coupons and discounts should not hurt a store’s profits.
The tobacco industry spends $196 million a year on tobacco marketing in New York alone. Much of that is spent on price discounts to undercut the impact of high taxes, which we know reduces youth smoking rates. For every 10 percent increase in price, youth smoking decreases 7 percent.
In the end, the proposed legislation will work to reduce youth smoking rates and save lives.
Big Tobacco knows they have to keep recruiting new young smokers to replace those who keep dying off from using their products. That is why they oppose the city’s proposal to restrict public display of cigarettes in stores, increase penalties for illegal cigarettes, and raise the minimum sale age to 21.
Why should we listen to an industry whose products when used correctly only lead to disease and death? We need to listen to the majority of New Yorkers who favor the proposed legislation that will save our youth from a lifetime of nicotine addiction.
Big Tobacco doesn’t have clean hands, and they don’t want us to have clean lungs.