Anti-tobacco advocates in New York are cheering the effort to ban flavored cigarettes in the state and increase taxes on cigarette purchases, calling the move key for limiting tobacco use among young people. 

The proposal, contained in Gov. Kathy Hochul's $227 billion budget plan, is being opposed by tobacco groups as well as convenience store organizations, who argue the measure would simply encourage illicit sales of cigarettes, including menthol. 

Nevertheless, anti-smoking advocates like Judy Rightmyer, the director of Capital District Tobacco-Free Communities, call the governor's tax and ban plan the right move to further reduce teen smoking. 

"I'm really grateful the governor has seen fit to put public health policies in her state budget," she said. "We know flavors are the product that young people use when they start smoking. If we can end all flavors in all products we will do well to stop youth initiation in tobacco use."

Smoking among young people has declined in New York over the last several years. A Department of Health survey found tobacco use rates among teens dropped between 2018 and 2020 from 30.6% to 25.6%. 

The state has raised the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 and sought to restrict flavored vaping products. 

Increasing New York's cigarette tax could have a similar effect, Rightmyer said. 

"We know that young people are very price sensitive," she said. "New York state used to be the leader on tobacco taxes, so raising the taxes will help make tobacco products a little less appealing to young people."

The tobacco law and tax changes have also been boosted in recent days by state health officials. Acting Health Commissioner James McDonald on Thursday said the menthol and flavored tobacco ban would prevent young people and people of color from taking up smoking. 

A similar measure proposed by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2019 failed to gain traction in the state Legislature. 

"The elimination of flavored tobacco products would safeguard our young people and those who have been addicted at alarmingly high rates as a result of the tobacco industry’s marketing efforts," McDonald said. "We know that menthol makes tobacco products easier to start and harder to quit, and we look forward to working with the Legislature to pass this life-saving legislation.”