In a letter addressed to Senator Schumer, Legislator James Nolan, who represents District 15, the Village of Bronxville, and parts of the City of Yonkers, on the Westchester County Board of Legislators, expressed his opposition to a proposed statewide ban on flavored tobacco products. He argued that such a ban would have far-reaching consequences, including potentially exacerbating the illicit tobacco market and unfairly targeting specific communities.
Last year, the Westchester County Board of Legislators passed a bill to ban flavored tobacco products, but Westchester County Executive George Latimer vetoed it. Nolan has retaken the task in this letter to Senator Schumer, highlighting the significant opposition they have encountered from Westchester County residents, businesses, and commuters, who voiced their concerns about the potential statewide ban.
One of the central arguments against the proposed ban is the potential boost it might provide to the illicit tobacco market. Nolan pointed out that in 2020, 53.5% of cigarettes smoked in New York were purchased from illicit sources. Such a ban, if implemented statewide, would place even more control in the hands of black market operators. This, in turn, could empower highly organized, international crime syndicates involved in tobacco smuggling – a concern recognized by the U.S. State Department as a “threat to national security.”
Tobacco smuggling has become a profitable venture for criminal groups, and the black market trade is lucrative. Additionally, there is a worry that terrorist groups could exploit these profits in the future. Notably, governments in the United States already lose billions of dollars in tax revenue each year due to tobacco-related issues, and implementing a flavored tobacco ban would likely exacerbate this issue.
Another significant concern raised by Nolan is the potential racial disparities that could arise from the ban. Banning flavored tobacco products could result in all menthol cigarettes in the state becoming untaxed and, therefore, illegal to possess. Nolan cited the tragic case of Eric Garner, who lost his life in 2014 during an encounter with the NYPD related to the sale of untaxed cigarettes. Garner’s family has expressed concerns that flavored tobacco bans could have unintended negative consequences in communities, particularly for African Americans and Middle Eastern Americans.
Moreover, it is suggested that prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco may not effectively deter smokers from accessing these products. Criminals do not pay sales tax on their illicit profits, meaning the state will not recoup the lost sales tax revenue, ultimately placing the burden on taxpayers through new tax increases.
Legislator James Nolan and his colleagues urge Senator Schumer to reconsider supporting a national ban on flavored tobacco products. They argue that the potential benefits of the ban are far outweighed by the significant negative impacts it could have on illicit markets, tax revenue, and specific communities.