RYO Bill Fails in New York

Tax increase passed by assembly fails to make it to the Senate

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

ALBANY, N.Y. – Proponents of taxing roll-your-own cigarettes at the same level as all cigarettes were outraged when a bill supported by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and passed by the New York State Assembly died in a Senate committee. The bill’s failure to make it to the Senate floor has many pondering what -- or who -- is responsible for its demise.

"It's impossible for us to know everything that happened, but apparently one company with a $10,000-a-month lobbyist was able to block a bill that would stop tax evasion, prevent residential fires and encourage smokers to quit," said Russ Sciandra, state director of advocacy for the American Cancer Society.

According to state records, that pricey lobbyist would be former Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato's Park Strategies firm, hired by roll-your-own power player RYO Filling Station of Girard, Ohio. Despite this recent victory, Park Strategies will continue its lobbying effort, because the bill could be resuscitated during a special session in November.

"We're breathing a little easier, but by no means is the fight over," Bea Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the RYO company, told the Associated Press. "We had been working diligently with the governor's office. We hired Park early. ... They have just been extremely effective."

More than two dozen states have introduced RYO bills in 2012 alone. The tax inequality extremely affects tobacco sales in New York – where a carton of 200 roll-your-own cigarettes can cost as little as $37.99, as opposed to the $108 the same amount of cigarettes would cost in a convenience store. It’s a discrepancy groups such as the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS) have been battling for some time.

"We were please the assembly passed the bill, and disappointed the Senate did not, but this quest is far from over,” NYACS president Jim Calvin told Tobacco E-News and CSP Daily News. “We are committed to ensuring that RYO shops become subject to the same cigarette taxation and regulation that retailers of prepackaged cigarettes do."

With Gov. Cuomo, NYACS, cigarette manufacturers and The American Cancer Society all supporting a crackdown on RYO tobacco, it’s likely the battle will continue in New York, high-powered lobbyists or not.