ALBANY, N.Y. - New York smokers have been sent outside in all kinds of weather, coughed at in disdain, and now they are burdened with the most expensive cigarette taxes in the nation. Now, to add cost to injury, the state is declaring its highest-in-the-nation cigarette tax a success.
The number of calls to the state's Smoker's Quitline quadrupled to nearly 10,000 calls during the week of June 2, when the full $2.75-a-pack tax kicked in, New York Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines said. Fewer than 2,300 people called for help during the same week in 2007.
"Not everyone that tries, quits," Daines said. "We estimate about 140,000 New Yorkers will successfully quit smoking. We may have more than a million try to cut down or stop, but this is how you get people to try: give them multiple chances and multiple reasons to stop."
The increase that took effect June 3 sent the tax from $1.25 to $2.75 per pack. In most of the state, cigarettes range between $6 and $8 a pack, depending on brand and store price. They can cost as much as $10 in New York City, which has its own tax.
New Jersey has the next highest cigarette tax, at nearly $2.58 per pack. Missouri has the cheapest tax in nation, at only 17 cents per pack, although individual counties and cities can impose an additional tax between 4 cents and 7 cents, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators.
Smokers calling the Quitline requested nearly 7,900 kits the week the new tax was introduced compared with 1,722 requested the same time last year.
Audrey Silk, who heads NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, said the initial increase in quitline calls doesn't realistically represent how many people will become nonsmokers.
"No matter the goal, it's disgusting that any group would actually boast that coercive government — this time through the hammer of taxation — to beat a class of society enjoying a legal product into submission is 'successful'," Silk said.
Cigarette smoking kills about 400,000 people in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 45 million U.S. adults are smokers, though the prevalence has fallen dramatically since the 1960s.