New York State Comprehensive Tobacco Reform

  • Published: November 25, 2019
  • Updated: December 11, 2019

In January 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed comprehensive tobacco reform that would:

  • Raise the age of sale for all tobacco products from 18 to 21
  • Prohibit the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies
  • Restrict the retail display of tobacco products
  • Give the New York State Department of Health authority to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products
  • Prohibit the use of coupons and other discounts on tobacco products
  • Tax electronic cigarettes
  • Require licensing of electronic cigarette retailers

Tobacco 21

The New York State Assembly voted to raise the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 in March 2019 and the New York State Senate followed in April. The governor signed the law on July 16, but the law did not go into effect until November 13. The law was written to take effect 120 days after signature, giving retailers time to comply.

Tax on Electronic Cigarettes

A 20 percent sales tax on vaping products, including liquid, gel, electronic devices, and vaping pens, passed as part of the 2019-2020 budget. The tax goes into effect on December 1, 2019 and is estimated to bring $21 million in revenue over the next two fiscal years.

This effort brings e-cigarette taxes in line with combustible cigarette state excise tax. Research shows rates of tobacco use decline as the price of tobacco products increase, making taxation one of the most effective tools in combating tobacco use.

Prohibiting the Sale of Tobacco and Electronic Cigarette Products in Pharmacies

Pharmacies play an important role in protecting and promoting the health of their patrons, and more people are utilizing these stores for preventive care and health counseling. There is an inherent contradiction between the role of a pharmacy in promoting health and wellness and the marketing of a product that causes illness. Selling tobacco products and electronic cigarettes in pharmacies alongside medications and health products perpetuates misconceptions about their popularity and acceptability.

Many people accept the notion that tobacco and pharmacies are an unhealthy mix. A 2012 publication by Roswell Park researchers, published in BMC Research Notes, reported that over 75 percent of pharmacists regard tobacco sales in pharmacies as inappropriate and that over 86 percent would prefer to work in a pharmacy that does not sell tobacco products.

A 2016 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than two-thirds of American adults are in favor of banning the sale of all tobacco products at retail pharmacies. Moreover, nearly half of cigarette smokers and users of other tobacco products favor prohibiting tobacco sales in retail pharmacy stores.

Prohibiting the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies has been successfully undertaken in San Francisco, over 134 municipalities in the states of Massachusetts and California, and all of Canada. In New York State policies have already been passed in Albany and Rockland Counties and most recently in Erie County, NY. New York City implemented a ban on tobacco sales in pharmacies in 2017 that resulted in a decrease in tobacco retailer density of nearly 7 percent, with some neighborhoods seeing a reduction greater than 15 percent.

In 2014, CVS Health became the first national retail pharmacy chain to stop selling tobacco products. After implementing the new policy, CVS Health reported that annual revenue increased in both 2014 and 2015.

New York State did not pass this into law during the 2019 session. Passing Tobacco Free Pharmacies remains a goal.

Restricting the Retail Display of Tobacco and Electronic Cigarette Products

One way in which tobacco companies seek to entice adolescents to use their products is through the use of prominent product displays, sometimes referred to as “power walls” or “point of sale advertising.” These displays, typically located at entrances and behind cash registers, are highly engineered by tobacco companies to maximize visual intrusiveness and instigate impulse purchases.

The importance of these displays has grown since restrictions were placed on mainstream advertising and tobacco companies have increased their focus on retail promotions and their spending on these displays.

Research conducted at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center has demonstrated the effectiveness of these advertisements in attracting attention from both smokers and nonsmokers. Researchers used mobile eye-tracking equipment to record and analyze the location and duration of where and what smokers and nonsmokers observed while inside convenience stores. Overall, 72% percent of the participants fixated on the power wall of tobacco products behind the counter during their purchase. Fixations were particularly likely on tobacco ads and cigarette displays, and nonsmokers and smokers viewed the ads for the same duration of time.

As shown in the 2012 Surgeon General’s report on youth and tobacco use, exposure to tobacco marketing in retail stores increases youth tobacco experimentation and uptake. Exposure to tobacco marketing also makes it less likely that current users will successfully quit.

New York State did not pass this into law during the 2019 session. This legislation remains a goal going into 2020.

Restricting the Sale of Flavored Electronic Cigarette Liquids

The thousands of flavors and flavor combinations available for electronic cigarettes hinder the effort to prevent children and teenagers from using the products and also attract adults who may be hoping to replace or reduce the use of combustible cigarettes.

Companies are marketing to children through kid-friendly flavors designed to be similar to candy or popular foods, frequently with appealing names like “Unicorn Milk,” “Sour Smurf,” or “Franken Vape.”

In 2019, the NYS Department of Health and Governor moved to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. The matter is currently being fought in court.

Restricting Discounts Provided by Tobacco and Electronic Cigarette Manufacturers

Higher prices for tobacco and electronic cigarette products are among the most effective strategies to reduce consumption of these products, particularly among youth.

Tactics used by manufacturers to reduce the price of tobacco and electronic cigarette products in New York State—such as coupons and promotions—make these products more accessible. Discounts, particularly those marketed to youth, entice price-sensitive youth to purchase deadly and highly addictive products.

Restricting price discounts of these harmful, addictive tobacco products in order to make them more expensive will decrease use of these products and save lives.

This did not pass in NYS and remains a goal for the 2020 legislative session.

Requiring Licensing of E-Cigarette Retailers

Restricting the sale of electronic cigarettes to licensed retailers helps enforce current prohibitions against selling products to minors.

Jim Kennedy
Director of Government Affairs
Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center