New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Department of Health is quietly exploring the possibility of banning all tobacco products in the state, 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.”
The survey asked officials about limiting the number of retailers who can sell tobacco products in a community, prohibiting its sales near schools, and banning the sale of all tobacco products to those born after a specific date.
“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.
The move by Hochul’s administration signals her intention to remove tobacco sales in New York, raising serious concerns among convenience store owners who argue that a ban will not stop people from smoking tobacco and likely put many stores out of business.
Kent Sopris, president of the New York Association of Convenience Store Owners, told The Post such a move would be “bizarre” and that lawmakers should instead use a tax system to lower the smoking rate instead of increasing taxes or banning categories.
The move is further complicated by the fact that in 2021 New York State legalized the sale of marijuana products, prompting Sopris to question why the governor is “telling regulated legal convenience stores they can’t sell menthol cigarettes to adults” while encouraging New Yorkers to buy marijuana products sold legally at cannabis dispensaries.
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., including an estimated $177.3 million in the Empire State each year – accusing industry leaders of specifically targeting black communities with menthol tobacco products.
Still, tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in New York and the rest of the nation, killing approximately 28,000 adults and a projected 280,000 children now under the age of 18 and alive in New York State each year.
It remains to be seen whether the Health Department’s survey of local leaders will be enough to sway legislators and create a ban on all tobacco products in New York.