Monday, February 06, 2006

News Flash: Cigarettes are Unpopular

Much has been made about the recent Q-Poll that finds that 71% of New Yorkers back the mayor's proposed 50 cents a pack hike in the city's cigarette tax. What's interesting to us is that 46% of those supporting the increase believe that it will have little effect on the prevalence of underage smoking that is the mayor's expressed target in putting forth this initiative.

All of which underscores the fact that, along with a great deal of ignorance (the tax increase will pump up unregulated street sales were children can easily buy smokes), there is an ideological distaste for cigarettes that has no direct correlation with any public policy measure. This distaste can be roughly translated as follows: "Tax this product because we don't like it."

Our belief is that this is precisely where the mayor is coming from when he proposes to hike the cigarette tax even further than his city record 1800% increase in 2002. Does he care a whit about the black market that he is stoking? Or the bodegas and other small stores that he is crippling?

Apparently not, and he seems impervious to is the evidence of the impact that his increases
have had. Illegal street sales continue to proliferate and, while internet sales have been the target of successful enforcement efforts by AG Eliot Spitzer, mail order evasion is still wildly popular and relatively unabated.

All of which brings us to the outrageous Indian tax avoidance loophole that is the subject of an incisive editorial in Saturday's NY Post by mega-retailer John Catsimatidis. As he points out the city and state is losing over $400 million a year in uncollected taxes. His money quote: "Enough is enough. It is time to show respect for the law and equalize the obligations on all cigarette retailers in New York, both on and off the reservations. Unless that happens, any increase in taxes unfairly will hurt the law-abiding businesses that collect them."

Mayor Bloomberg should withdraw his cigarette tax proposal and join with us in calling for a moratorium on all new levies until his friend Governor Pataki enforces the law equally.