Proposed cigarette tax increase riles smokers in NY

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Jill Liddell was hardly alone while taking a smoke break outside a downtown office building, where she and other smokers were feeling singled out Monday as lawmakers consideRed a hefty increase in the state cigarette tax.

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Jill Liddell was hardly alone while taking a smoke break outside a downtown office building, where she and other smokers were feeling singled out Monday as lawmakers consideRed a hefty increase in the state cigarette tax. "I wish they would hit the drinkers for once," Liddell said. Legislative leaders were talking about doubling the cigarette tax to $3 per pack to help the state make ends meet, but hadn't finalized the amount by Monday afternoon. A per-pack increase of $1.25 or $1.50 would push the average price of Cigarettes over $7 in New York. "It's just an easy fix," responded smoker Tonya Pagan. "It's not being charged to alcohol or anything else that's legal. That's just the easiest way" for the state to make money. Advocates praised the idea as potentially life saving, while opponents, including convenience store chains, said it would hurt business. The Center for a Tobacco Free New York estimated that raising the excise tax by $1.50 would convince about 6 percent of the state's smokers _ about 168,800 adults _ to kick the habit. "Raising the price through higher taxes encourages adult smokers to quit and discourages children from starting," said Russ Sciandra, the center's director. But several smokers in Buffalo pRedicted they would just have More company on Indian reservations, where they buy untaxed Cigarettes at big discounts. The Seneca Indian Nation sells Cigarettes at numerous stores within a 30-minute drive of Buffalo. Becky Daniels pays about $9 per carton for a reservation "no-name brand," just $2 More than a single pack would cost after the proposed tax hike. Pagan gets her Newports from reservation vendors for about $27 per carton, about half what she would pay at a regular store. But they and others said they felt for fellow smokers without the means to make the trip. "The state is after any money they can get. They're always trying to take money away from the working people," Daniels said. The New York City-based Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, or CLASH, called the proposed tax increase punitive and in a press release urged legislators to "reject this theft." "Cigarettes are a legal product," the group wrote. "Considering the abundance of anti-smoking ads it's impossible to conclude that adults are not making an informed choice." It was unknown whether any of the revenue raised from the proposed increase would go to state-supported stop-smoking programs. There are 19 smoking cessation centers around the state and most state residents are eligible for enough free patches, gum and lozenges to begin the quitting process, Health Department spokeswoman Claudia Hutton said.

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