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Cigarette sellers are accusing Gov. Hochul of a double standard — proposing a ban on flavored tobacco while allowing the marketing of flavor-infused and fruity-scented marijuana merch.
New York currently bans the sale of flavored vaping products.
In her 2023 State of the State policy agenda, Hochul said she’ll introduce legislation to expand the ban to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products — like menthol smokes.
The governor also proposed to hike the cigarette tax $1 — from $4.35 to $5.35 per pack.
“These actions are projected to reduce the number of young people smoking cigarettes by 9%, prevent 22,000 youths from becoming adult smokers, and prevent premature deaths caused by smoking,” Hochul said.
At the same time, Housing Works — a not-for-profit provider operating New York’s first cannabis dispensary in Manhattan — is marketing a number of THC products infused with flavor, or with sweet-sounding scents and names.
On its website, Housing Workers promoted cannabis vape pens with names like “Pineapple,” “Tropical Runtz,” “Bubba Kush,” “Pre Bubba Kush,” “Ayrloom,” “Tahoe,” “Pink Grapefruit,” and “Cereal Milk.”
Housing Works also sells “Sour Green Apple” edibles and flowered weed with names including “BlueBerry Danish,” “Wedding Cake,” “Banana Runtz,” “Gush Mints,” “Gorilla Blue,” “Purple Punch,” and “Space Queen.”
Meanwhile, flavored cannabis products like gummy edibles are being sold at some of the 1,400 unlicensed smoke shops in the city, according to Sheriff Anthony Miranda.
The governor’s action smacks of hypocrisy, merchants and tobacco advocates charge.
“Blaming flavored tobacco as a vehicle for underage smoking while promoting flavored cannabis is bizarre and contradictory, and will only impact the lives of retail employees who will see their jobs eliminated,” said Kent Sopris, president of New York Association of Convenience Stores.
He added that “prohibitionist policies such as the flavor ban will have no impact on the availability of the products as they will remain readily available to consumers in nearby states and on the flourishing criminal underground market just like banned flavored vape products are.”
Hochul’s office defended the proposed flavored tobacco ban.
“Whether Big Tobacco admits it or not, the facts are clear: cigarettes kill more than 28,000 New Yorkers each year and Governor Hochul’s bold public health proposal will save lives,” said Hochul spokesman Avi Small.
The governor’s office also said New York’s cannabis law explicitly states cannabis advertising is prohibited if it “is designed in any way to appeal to children or other minors.”
Westchester County Executive George Latimer last month vetoed a similar bill to ban flavored cigs, saying there was a disconnect between the tobacco prohibition and the state’s promotion and licensing of recreational cannabis.
“The intersection between making certain tobacco products illegal at the same time we are allowing cannabis products to be legally sold, creates a societal concern that must be more fully addressed,” Latimer said in his Dec. 12 veto message.
The New York City Council tried to ban menthol smokes in 2019 and 2020 — but was beat back by opposition from the tobacco industry and civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who worried prohibition would lead to a growing black market of untaxed flavored single cigarettes and confrontations with police.
But the NAACP supports a ban on menthol cigarettes, saying the tobacco industry had aggressively marketed flavored cigarettes to “communities of color” that contributed to worse health outcomes for minorities.
“I’m glad Gov. Hochul is taking up the cause. This tobacco ban is on the NAACP’s legislative agenda,” said NAACP’s New York State president Hazel Dukes. “We stopped taking money from the tobacco companies because of the higher death rate in the African-American and brown communities.”
Dukes insisted tobacco and cannabis should be treated as separate issues — and dismissed comparison, in terms of prohibition, as “apples and oranges.”
Brooklyn Councilwoman Rita Joseph is pushing legislation to outlaw the sale of menthol, mint, and wintergreen flavored cigarettes in the city.