New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking a chance on his highest approval rating in a year by backing a plan to raise the price of cigarettes.
The New York City Council’s proposal to curb tobacco use will see the minimum price of cigarettes per pack jump $2.50 from $10.50 to $13.00. de Blasio has vowed that the piece of legislation would sharply diminish the number of stores that sell cigarettes over time.
The mayor announced his plan in front of a banner that read “160,000 fewer smokers by 2020.”
“There will be a fight over it. Big Tobacco watches New York City very carefully,” de Blasio said during a press conference on Wednesday. “We know historically they’ve stopped at nothing, but we are resolved to beat them and to turn the tides here in New York City.”
Officials said that 12,000 New Yorkers die a year from smoking-related illnesses.
Despite the positives on overall mortality and health for citizens of the Big Apple, the local economy will be negatively impacted and could create a growing black market of selling loose cigarettes. That, in turn, could create harsher police treatment and crackdowns, similar to that of Eric Garner, who was killed after being strangled by a police officer in 2014.
While there will almost certainly be a segment of the smoker population that will quit, the other half will continue to not only buy cigarettes, but illegally sell them as well.
This also impacts the livelihoods of many store and bodega owners. Mohammad Uddin owns a bodega in Sunset Park and suggested to the New York Daily News that his business will take a hit as many current smokers will look elsewhere to buy cigarettes.
“It’s too expensive in New York. I don’t make too much money. If I paid $13 a day it would be too much,” Uddin said. He continued to say that he gets his cigarettes from a friend who illegally smuggles them up from Virginia.
Perception equals reality, and while the reality may be that more smoking-related illnesses and deaths will decrease, the perception is that de Blasio is encouraging illegal behavior to gives police officers justification to over-criminalize New York smokers.