Queens smokers upset at cigarette price soar

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Queens smokers and shopkeepers alike are feeling the pinch as cigarette prices have soared with New York state’s recent tax increase. The borough’s nicotine-craving consumers are doing what they can to save a few dollars, which in many cases means looking elsewhere for their cigarette purchases.

“Less people are coming in. Most of them are preferring to buy from a different state,” said Gary Djangulyan of the Mobil gas station on Bell Boulevard and 35th Avenue in Bayside. New York City imposes its own tax on cigarettes.

Following a bill passed by the state Legislature June 20, the tax on cigarettes increased by $1.60. According to the city Department of Health, the combination of state, federal and local taxes on cigarettes in the city is the highest in the nation and the average cost of a pack of cigarettes here is now $11.

Brad Maione, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, said the state’s latest tax increase was motivated by both health and fiscal concerns.

“If people are smoking and people are understanding that it’s a lifestyle choice, it’s certainly detrimental to public health,” he said, adding that the expected infusion of tax revenue would help with another detrimental situation — the state of New York’s finances. “The state’s fiscal condition certainly has deteriorated over the last couple of years.”

In addition to the retail tax, the law would tax wholesale cigarette purchases by sellers on Indian reservations beginning Sept. 1, according to the Department of Taxation and Finance.

Despite the Legislature’s intentions, sudden hikes in the increased prices of cigarettes are not preventing Queens customers from pursuing their habit by going elsewhere for more affordable lights.

“I think if it was $100 a pack [people] would still buy it,” said John Annechino of Bayside. “It’s unfortunate this is happening in New York. They are putting the same amount of money in commercials that oppose smoking.”

Djangulyan, of the Bayside Mobil station, said his sales have dropped by about 30 percent to 40 percent. “Most of them, like 90 percent of the ones that have dropped, are going to Long Island to buy it $2 cheaper there. It’s a 10-minute drive from here,” he said.

The cost for a box of Marlboros in the Bayside area ranged from $11.22 to $11.89 during a recent survey of retailers, while Parliament fell between $11.95 to $12.36 and Super Slims between $11.89 and $12.20 per box.

Sam Pagadala agreed. “Sales are down, people come less often,” he said.

According to the state Department of Health, the tax increase is expected to prevent 170,500 New York children from becoming smokers, motivate 86,100 adult smokers to quit and save 77,000 New Yorkers from premature, smoking-related deaths.

Some, like Sam Kumar, a cashier at the Gulf gas station at Bell Boulevard and 35th Avenue in Bayside, doubted the tax would deter many people from smoking.

“They get it anyway when they know the same prices are anywhere,” he said.

But others believe in the positive impact of tax increases.

“It’s gonna make me quit,” said Westchester resident Turlough “Turk” Seagrave.

Updated 6:10 pm, October 10, 2011
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