Tobacco Sales Regs Punish Poor People

The shape of the nanny state.


Store owner Kamal Saleh was just hit with thousands of dollars in fines.

His crime? He sold three cigars for $8.89. "Too cheap!" say New York City bureaucrats. "The cigars should have cost 11 cents more."

Politicians want you to spend more for tobacco.

They decided this after anti-smoking crusader Dr. Kurt Ribisl told the Centers for Disease Control, "Higher prices will deter children from smoking."

A pit of socialist micromanagers called the New York City Council quickly embraced the idea. "It's also being considered very seriously in a number of jurisdictions in California," Ribisl told me.

When health totalitarians make suggestions, leftist politicians jump.

Ribisl also told the CDC, "Very cheap (tobacco) products should no longer be available." So for my YouTube video this week, I asked him, "Why do you get to decide?!"

"No, I'm not deciding," he insisted. "I'm a person who studies these policies. I'll let the policymakers decide."

OK, I sighed, "Why do the politicians get to decide?"

"Cigarettes are the most lethal product ever introduced," he replied.

That may be true, although few people realize that half the people who smoke do not die from tobacco-related illness.

Fatty foods, swimming pools and cars also kill lots of people. Maybe the health police will raise their prices next.

But so far, it's just tobacco. At Ribisl's urging, New York City adopted price floors and taxes to bring the price of a pack of cigarettes to $13 a pack.

"People still have the ability to buy it, if they so choose," he said.

"Just not poor people," I told him. "You're screwing poor people."

"We see much higher smoking rates among poor people," answered Ribisl. "We need policies that are going to reduce tobacco use among poor people."

I think all people should get to decide for themselves, but Ribisl wants to engineer "a transition toward thinking more about healthy food and beverage."

At the CDC, Ribisl suggested that it should also be government policy to "reduce the number of tobacco stores."

That seems cruel to store owners like Kamal Saleh, but Ribisl said, "We're not interested in putting stores out of business … They're going to find new products to sell."

Really? How does he know?

New York already has a blizzard of regulations that put little stores out of business.

Tobacco sales regulations alone go on for 47 pages—confusing pages filled with fine print like: "the price floor for any package of cigars that contains more than one cigar and that has been delivered to a retail dealer in a package described by subdivision a of section 17-704 shall be computed by multiplying the number of cigars in the package by $1.75 and adding $6.25 to the total."

The 47 pages are just for tobacco sales. "For food, refrigeration, deliveries and everything else, the administrative code could be thousands of pages," says lawyer Andrew Tilem.

Tilem defends store owners who get fined. Many can barely afford to pay him. Sometimes they pay in "fish and paper plates and tortillas." Those who can't afford to hire a lawyer may just go out of business.

City Council meddlers, who often complain about "big business," don't notice that their own rules make the big businesses bigger.

"The big guy can hire lawyers," says Tilem. "It's the little guy who's trying to pinch his pennies and make a dollar that has the biggest problem."

Playing devil's advocate, I tell him, the government just wants to protect people's health.

"I'm not a smoking advocate," Tilem replied, "but I think in this country … people have the right to do the wrong thing."

We should.

Watch this week's video:

NEXT: Federalists Can't Support a Cannabis Crackdown

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  1. “Cigarettes are the most lethal product ever introduced”

    By lost life-years?

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    2. I prefer bags full of armed hand grenades…also pretty lethal

  2. Go Stossel!

    1. I love it when he really gets pissed off.

  3. We need policies that reduce the number of poor people. Poor people commit more aggravated assault than rich people. Thus, reducing the amount of poor people in the U.S. will reduce the amount of aggravated assaults.

    1. Not to mention that rich people rarely commit armed robberies.
      Embezzlement, sure, but no violence.

      1. I wonder…

        If we made everyone but der Kommisar poor, then there’d be no poor people or rich people! There’d be just people and der Kommisar.

        I think I understand leftist agendas now.

  4. Tobacco Sales Regs Punish Poor People: New at Reason

    Most regs punish poor people. Like most taxes. I.e. Business do pay the myriad of taxes that are levied, the most obvious being the sales and income taxes. They are just a cost transferred to the consumer.

  5. He should count himself lucky that DeBlasio’s thugs didn’t come and choke him out.

  6. Well, it’s not like the tobacco taxes are very regressive.
    We all know that the communist/socialist/progressive/democrat policies are all designed to help the poor and downtrodden. That is why all democrats (and progressive Bernie) donate all of their wealth and all of their salaries over what the minimum wage is to charities to help the poor.

    1. Even commie states don’t repress tobacco the way Western liberal states do – it’s unbelievable.

  7. Nothing new – price fixing [at the highest possible prices] hit the landscape with the New Deal and like lawn weeds, it takes regular efforts to keep them from taking over. My problem here is if the owner can’t set prices in his own shop he doesn’t own his store and the NYC hacks abusing the public can Fine themselves.
    As an aside, the poor don’t pay their fair share in the wake of the income tax being structured with progressive tiers. Tobacco taxes are one tool, as most smokers tend to be at or below median income on average. Another is minimum wage law – we experience about 1.04 increase in cost of living for every $1 hike in minimum wage. IRS adjustments to this ruse are always less than 1:1, which makes it a tax increase without a vote.
    Tobacco is a soft target: doctors were calling cigs “coffin nails” almost a century ago, long before Henry Waxman assaulted various people on capitol hill with a bristling array of nose hairs. The number one cause of death is living, and a Hitlerian solution is not the way to go. I’m not jewish, but there is a salutation I admire: L’Chaim! [To Life!] It has a quiet, and positive defiance embedded in it that defies what drags us down in this world. I may just say that as I light up a cigar for the first time in quite awhile as my own protest against pinheads in drag hand wringing over statistics. If we don’t like the #1 cause of something… stop keeping statistics, and put that “I hate NY” bumper sticker on your car now.

  8. Cigars are the gateway drug. They can lead to [gasp] menthol cigarettes!

  9. NYC tobacco taxes are great for bootleggers who are willing to drive a few hours to Virginia, where the tax is still 30 cents a pack on cigarettes, and of course the cigarette wholesalers here.

    Notice how progs love to tax anything that they don’t approve of, yet they go nuts at any taxes that might cut into their bottom line. This is one thing to like about the new tax law-wealthy progs in NYC and Cali won’t be able to deduct as much in state taxes. Now we just need a tax on lattes and yoga mats.

    1. Chicago tried to enact a “Yuppie tax” on health and racquetball clubs in 1985, but the Illinois Supreme Court eventually (1988) threw it out, based on technicalities of Illinois State tax law: Municipalities were allowed to impose extra taxes on “amusements” but not on “occupations.”


  10. When it comes to minimum wage laws Dr Ribisl surely says “higher prices will deter businesses from hiring.”

    And isn’t demand for recreational drugs generally pretty price inelastic? As if little Johnny (who’s 18 and old enough to vote for these asshats) is deterred by an extra two dollars on those death sticks.

    Progs don’t hate poor people, they just love saving poor people by taking their money away.

  11. Unintended consequence of trying to sin tax people out of sinning is the government ends up not wanting people to stop while they continue demonizing the people. When ecigs first came out I thought these will make smoking obsolete, you can have your cake and eat it too. The government has been fighting them since the beginning. $3M studies (yes more than one) to data mind vapers on twitter, $200M to produce studies with desired results. Minor costs to protect their billions in cigarette taxes, which very little goes to smoking cessation outside of paying their friends who produce the propaganda and demonize smokers to justify more and more taxes.

  12. ‘ “Cigarettes are the most lethal product ever introduced,” he replied.

    That may be true, ‘

    You know how you get anti-smoking fascists to stop telling bald-faced lies? Loudly call Bull Shit on it, to their face, and accept no less than an admission of lying.

  13. Let the Nanny-Staters all move to Venezuela and turn it into a Socialist Paradise, and leave us the fuck alone.

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