Tough Tobacco in New York

Difficult times continue for Empire State's tobacco retailers.

Linda Abu-Shalback Zid, Senior Editor

ALBANY, N.Y.--It's been a month since a U.S. District Court judge struck down a New York City ordinance that required graphic anti-smoking posters be displayed at cigarette retailers, but for James Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS), there hasn't been time to celebrate."I didn't cheer," he told Tobacco E-News. It's sad and frustrating that we have to fight these battles.It's not the end; it's just the latest chapter." He added, "The federal court said that city rule was preempted by existing federal law that regulates tobacco advertising. And [image-nocss] so that's one excessive regulation we were able to stop, but that illustrates the mentality of the anti-tobacco forces in city government."In fact, at press time, New York City was working on its appeal. And NYACS is also currently wrapped up in several other issues at the state level, in the state that already contends with the highest cigarette excise tax in the country ($4.35).Among them: That state excise tax currently isn't paid by American-Indian reservations in New York, despite a ruling to start collecting them last September. There is currently a restraining order in place. Calvin estimates that "mom-and-pop" stores have lost 25 percent to 45 percent in cigarette sales due to the differential. "At this point, well over half the price of a pack of cigarettes that we sell is taxes," he said. Retail tobacco dealer registration fees remain frozen at $100 per store per year, thanks to a restraining order. But should the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court reinstate fees approved in 2009, that could skyrocket to anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 per store per year, based on gross sales of all products. Calvin said he expects a ruling sometime this quarter. "The case has been argued; it's just a matter of deciding it." In Buffalo, a proposed ordinance would enact further restrictions on tobacco advertising at retail stores and mandate compliance inspections. Calvin feels the proposed regulations are items that should be handled at the federal level. "They are trying to out-FDA the FDA," he said. "There are small battles that we win, but in New York, if you win a battle over a tobacco issue, usually you only win the right to fight the same battle the following year," Calvin said. "Or it's something else, so it's a constant deluge of new tobacco laws and regulations being proposed every day."Do you think your city or state is easier or tougher on tobacco retailers? Please let me know at [email protected].