NYC Considers Hiking Cigarette Age in Apparent Effort To Boost Black Market



Let's say you're an official in a jurisdiction that has raised cigarette taxes so high that the majority of smokes consumed in the state come from the black market — either smuggled in from lower-tax jurisdictions or else outright counterfeits sold as the real deal to consumers trying to avoid being mugged as they enjoy their chosen vice. Assuming that your goal is to get everybody to go to the black market, what else can you do to nudge retailers and smokers to deal with the guys selling off the back of trucks? Well, how about raising the smoking age — effectively imposing prohibition on some existing smokers so that they have to go underground to get their smokes? That's the plan in New York City, where officials, including a leading mayoral candidate, want to rase the legal age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21.

Reports the New York Times:

Young New Yorkers would not be able to buy cigarettes until they were 21, up from the current 18, under a proposal advanced Monday by Dr. Thomas A. Farley, the city's health commissioner, and Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker.

The proposal, which would give New York the highest smoking age in the country among major cities, is the latest effort in a long campaign to limit smoking that began soon after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office, with bans on smoking in restaurants and bars, and expanding more recently to bans at parks, beaches, plazas and other public places.

Quinn is currently leading the pack among mayoral hopefuls, and clearly sees New Yorkers' eager embrace of being bossed around by Michael Bloomberg as evidence that presumptuous nanny state is a winning campaign platform. The only hitch in Farley's and Quinn's nannyish dreams is the the thriving black market that already serves smokers already tired of being nagged and nudged to quit. I noted last week that, every two years, Michigan's Mackinac Center for Public Policy surveys the cigarette market and breaks down, by state, the estimated percentage of the cigarette market served by smugglers. As the center's Michael D. LaFaive and Todd Nesbit, Ph.D. put it:

We find that New York currently holds the top position as the highest net importer of smuggled cigarettes in 2011, with smuggled cigarettes totaling a staggering 60.9 percent of the total market. Not coincidentally, New York also has the nation's highest state cigarette tax at $4.35 per pack, plus another $1.50 levied in New York City.

Add a hike in the legal age to purchase cigarettes to those high taxes, and we just may find out if there's any real ceiling to the percentage of a nominally legal product that can be sourced in the black market.

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  1. The city needs to be purged, it’s giving New York a bad name.

    1. So, you’re saying something like, maybe that this town needs an enema?

  2. “In other news, Mayor Bloomberg encouraged Americans to continue wearing diapers until age 16, and offered his personal government-official-teets to a nation of children crying out for more laws.

  3. man, when I was in HS, the age limit of 18 really stopped us from buying ciggies. No really…


    1. I went to high school in the 80’s and back then the boys restrooms were basically smoking lounges for the most part, with the vast majority of those smoking under the age of 18.

      I bet you would get executed if you smoked in the same place today.

      1. On the commentary track of a certain Futurama episode, someone said their high school had a sanctioned smoking section.

        1. Mine did. It was right outside the schools gates. No one ever did anything about it.

          Granted, a guy also smoked a joint in one of my classrooms once as well. We had essentially no supervision in that class.

          I didn’t get quite the same education in Hawaii public schools that Barack Obama got from Punahou.

      2. When I was in government school in the 1970s, we had a smoking area outside.

        If the tobacco industry “owns” a single politician, they sure are not getting any bang for their bucks anymore.

  4. that’s almost $6 in taxes. what does a pack cost in NYC? The taxes are more than what they cost in VA, which I think is around $5.

    1. Like $10 or so, depending on brand/where you are.

    2. I think I bought a pack during a road trip a few years ago for somewhere in the neighborhood of $11.

    3. I have certainly never driven up to New Jersey to visit friends, and brought along many cartons of cigarettes with me.

      1. Just as I never driven with my wife to NH to visit family, and brought home cheap liquor and fireworks.

      2. I always wondered in European novels set in the Cold War era, what they were talking about when they mentioned cigarette smuggling. Cigarettes? WTF? Now I know.

        At what point is it no longer misguided good intentions and we can start attributing malevolence to stupid shit like this?

        1. The question is, when in history should we peg where the stupid shit like this began.

          1. About a week after the first tax was levied.

  5. JD! Two things about that alt text:

    1) lulz!
    2) RACIST!!!!!

    Well done.

    1. He didn’t say the menthols were in the back of the truck.

  6. Also, godDAMN I’m glad I quit smoking. It’s becoming a better indication of wealth than monocles ad babies’-blood cocktails.

  7. We need comprehensive cigarette reforms, but we can’t do that until we secure New York’s borders against imported cigarettes. You can have cigarette reform, or cigarette imports, but not both.

  8. Puritans got to Purify!

  9. The proposal, which would give New York the highest smoking age in the country among major cities,

    Is this implying that it isn’t just 18 everywhere?

    1. I think UT, NE and AK have a 19 age.

  10. Why don’t they just ban cigarettes. That would solve any lingering black market problems right there.

    1. Or relegating smokers to those 2/3rds filter cigarettes from The Fifth Element, dispensed by a smarmy smoking cessation robot built into the wall.

    2. One step at a time, Paul. One step at a time.

  11. I keep telling everyone that Quinn is going to make us long for the days of Bloomberg, just like Bloomberg made me long for the days of Giuliani. She’s not even elected yet and there she goes.

    Not that it matters. The “health commissioner” seems to be the most powerful figure in the city now.

    1. I’m pretty sure if they change the smoking age from 18 to 21 that will put me officially in “The Warriors was better than NYC now, let’s go back to the ultraviolence” territory.

      1. Escape from New York is looking like a better option all the time.


        1. I think he or she is more of a number two.

          1. You are number six.

            1. He is not a number, he is a freeish man!

  12. Black (RACIST!) market menthols (DOUBLE RACIST!)


  13. Headline and alt-text of the day.

  14. I think the simplest explanation for this is that Michael Bloomberg has a cunning plan to become an even larger billionaire by controlling this new black market once he leaves office. He has probably been positioning himself in shipping, retail, and other necessary sectors to take the lion’s share of the excess profits generated by prohibiting these various items.

  15. I think Reason is just trolling us it this point. My BP must have shot up 20 points since I opened up HnR today. 🙂

    1. I just get a chuckle now and then.

      1. Wait, you hear it too? I thought I was the only one!

    2. You know I hear if you quit smoking that BP will go right back to normal

  16. “…we just may find out if there’s any real ceiling to the percentage of a nominally legal product that can be sourced in the black market.”

    Of course there is. 100%.


  18. Maybe at the end of this movie we find out that Quinn is secretly also the leader of PAGAN?

  19. It was not immediately clear whether Dr. Farley’s proposal would make it illegal for people under 21 to possess cigarettes, as well as to buy them.

    Probably not that far; nanny-staters prefer to go after the soft targets that are small businesses, and not so much against the elusive individuals.

    1. Eh, in NYC it would be another excuse to stop-and-frisk, no?

  20. We find that New York currently holds the top position as the highest net importer of smuggled cigarettes in 2011, with smuggled cigarettes totaling a staggering 60.9 percent

    Show of hands of anyone who thinks 60.9% — THREE fn digits — is an accurate number reflecting reality, when smugglers are trying to hide their activities from being measured by anyone?

    1. From what I understand of the methods, they’re:

      1) Surveying smokers, along with other data to estimate consumption, and

      2) Examining state tax and other records to see how many were legally sold under the state regime.

      Then they compare the numbers, and report the shortfall. Three significant digits overstates the accuracy, primarily on the consumption side. (Government probably has a good record of how much was legally paid in taxes.)

    2. The 61% may not be all that far off from my experience. I quit smoking about 6 months ago. In my neck of the woods the brands people smoke come overwhelmingly from the Indian reservations. The way they made the estimate “smuggling” would include cigarettes manufactured on the Indian reservations. People just drive to the reservation and buy their smokes at one quarter the price or less. Short of setting up road blocks there isn’t a whole lot NYS can do about it. At a savings of $75 or more per carton there is plenty of incentive to make the trip to pick up 5 or 10 cartons depending on how close you live.

  21. After all the lobbying for alt text, we get a racist remark?

  22. Thats what I am talking about. Wow.

  23. It’s simply a business opportunity for the mini-mart owners in Yonkers, Hoboken and Nassau County.

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