Kathy Hochul proposes a ban on flavored tobacco and hookah bars

Holy smoke!

Gov. Kathy Hochul is making headway with her plea for a nationwide ban on the sale of flavored tobacco and vape products, which critics say is “unfair” to people of color, impractical to enforce and costly to state taxpayers, while potentially wiping out hookah lounges New York.

“It’s tough legislation, it’s unfair,” MP Nader Sayegh (D-Yonkers) said. “It’s not fair to say, ‘Stop smoking hookah, but you can smoke pot.'”

Jordanian-American lawmakers said the potential end of hookah bars was particularly “unfair” to New Yorkers from the Middle East and South Asia.

“I like to smoke hookah – I don’t abuse it – now and then. It is very pleasant. It’s a cultural experience,” he said of the hookahs burning with flavored tobacco.

The Westchester Democrat is far from the only person feeling burned by the idea, which was included in the state budget unveiled by Hochul this week ahead of the April 1 deadline.

Hochul in a red outfit with her arms outstretched behind a podium as she delivers her budget address in the Red Room at the State Capitol in Albany.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has argued that banning flavored tobacco and vapes will be worth the cost of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue in the years to come.

Critics also say the ban would disproportionately affect ethnic minority New Yorkers, who enjoy menthol cigarettes and other products that would likely still be available on the black market if a state ban were approved.

“Small businesses in New York are at risk of being squeezed out by the proposed illegal tobacco regulations, which would only stimulate a larger underground market and encourage people to buy unregulated products,” said Youssef Mubarez of the Yemeni American Merchants Association.

“Let’s not forget the case of Eric Garner,” he added, referring to the Staten Island man who died in police custody nearly a decade ago after being confronted about selling loose cigarettes.

Juul pods in their packs on a shelf in a store
According to Gov. Kathy Hochul, banning flavored vaping products would go a long way in reducing smoking rates among youth.
AFP via Getty Images

Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, is also opposed to the ban, having fought similar efforts in New York City to ban menthol cigarettes in previous years, along with black luminaries like the Rev. Al Sharpton.

But the NAACP supports a ban on menthol cigarettes and says the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed flavored cigarettes to “communities of color” which has contributed to poorer health outcomes for minorities.

“I’m glad Governor Hochul is taking this on. This tobacco ban is on the NAACP’s legislative agenda,” New York State President Hazel Dukes told the Post after Hochul first proposed the ban in her Jan. 10 state of the state address.

Hochul’s own budget proposal notes that the ban would cost the state $133 million in foregone tax revenue in the fiscal year beginning April 1 — and another $255 million in 2025.

“We have to tax it, and if there’s revenue to be had, well, we have to have the revenue — not the black market,” Sayegh said.

A hookah with its hoses on a table
Hookah lounges could disappear nationwide after a Hochul proposal to ban flavored tobacco and vape products.
MediaNews Group via Getty Images

But the newly elected Hochul says the lost revenue is worth the cost when you factor in the potential health benefits of producing less flavorful tobacco and nicotine products.

“As commercial tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths, Governor Hochul is leading the way to a tobacco-free generation to reduce youth smoking and prevent needless deaths. As with any budget proposal, we will be working with lawmakers on the final details to best protect public health,” Hochul spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays said when asked if the proposed ban would also cover hookah lounges.

The proposed budget will increase regressive cigarette taxes from $4.35 to $5.35 per pack as part of an effort to save about 22,000 youth from adult nicotine addiction after smoking and vaping rates have remained about the same as before two decades.

Flavored vape lined up on a shelf with colorful boxes listing flavors like mango, apple, and pineapple.
Tobacco and nicotine products come in a variety of flavors, including kid-friendly flavors like apple, strawberry, and pineapple.
Denver Post via Getty Images

States like California have exempted hookah lounges while introducing bans on flavored tobacco and vaping products.

“I think tobacco has always been a contributor to negative health in New York, and particularly in my neighborhood, but I think since New York City allows hookah establishments to be licensed, it wouldn’t be wise to have a New York City-sanctioned company to ban directly.” Rep. Kenny Burgos (D-Bronx) said.

“[Policymakers] I certainly need to study the impact on people under 21 and how the marketing/dissemination affects them, but I also don’t believe very much in addressing the vices of adult consent,” he added.

The Department of Health, its local counterparts and the New York City Department of Occupational Safety and Health – and not the police – will be primarily tasked with enforcing any future ban approved in Democratic-dominated Albany, according to the Hochul administration.

Future violators could face fines of up to $1,500 under the proposed law, which is scheduled to take effect on September 1, 2021.

New York’s experience of enforcing existing tobacco product taxes should prompt the governor to reconsider her move, given how difficult it is to inspect thousands of stores across the five boroughs, especially when health inspectors are unassisted, she said former town sheriff Edgar Domenech.

“There’s no way you can inspect 6,700 stores that sell cigarettes,” Domenech, who has been hired by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to enforce tobacco laws, told The Post on Thursday.

“Where are the extra resources for law enforcement … because you’re now pushing illegal cigarettes onto the streets?” he added.

https://nypost.com/2023/02/02/nys-gov-kathy-hochul-proposes-ban-on-flavored-tobacco-and-hookah-bars/ Kathy Hochul proposes a ban on flavored tobacco and hookah bars


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