Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Op-Ed: $1 Cigarette Tax Hike Projected to Save 15,300 New Yorkers’ Lives

Higher costs deter youth from smoking, but flavored tobacco products continue to attract and addict new smokers.
Julia Cuthbertson is the Brooklyn Community Engagement Manager of NYC Smoke-Free at Public Health Solutions, where she works to end the devastating tobacco epidemic and protect the health of all New Yorkers through tobacco control policy, advocacy and education.

By Julia Cuthbertson

Starting Sept. 1, 2023, New York State’s cigarette tax became the highest in the nation. The $1 hike is the first cigarette tax increase since 2010 and changes the tax from $4.35 to $5.35 per pack of 20 cigarettes. Research shows a 10% increase in tobacco prices would be expected to decrease tobacco consumption by 4% in high-income countries.

Increasing the cost of cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to promote smoking cessation and prevent youth initiation. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network projects the impact of the higher tax will save 15,300 New Yorkers’ lives and prevent 14,400 youth under age 18 from becoming adults who smoke. The latest data from the NYS Department of Health show that one in five high school-age youth uses tobacco products. New York State spends approximately $9.7 billion annually on preventable smoking-related health care costs.

In Brooklyn, while the prevalence of adult smoking has been steadily decreasing and reached 10.7% in 2021, according to the NYS Bureau of Tobacco Control, there are still inequities along racial, socioeconomic and immigration status lines. “Higher tobacco product prices are proven to be an extremely effective tool to decrease cigarette use, which is great news for Brooklynites” says Julia Cuthbertson, Brooklyn Community Engagement Manager for NYC Smoke-Free at Public Health Solutions. “We are also working with marginalized communities in Kings County who experience greater tobacco retail density and marketing in their neighborhoods to address the health disparities we are seeing locally. It is our hope that everyone in Brooklyn and beyond has the same opportunity to breathe clean air free from tobacco smoke where they live, work and play.”

Flavored tobacco products continue to attract and addict new smokers

While higher cigarette costs are proven to reduce youth smoking and prevent initiation, flavored tobacco products like cigars, cigarillos and chew continue to attract and addict new tobacco users. Tobacco companies use flavors like menthol in tobacco spin-offs to make them more appealing to new users, almost all of whom are under 18. Eighty-one percent of youth who have ever tried tobacco started with a flavored product; more than half (54%) of youth ages 12-17 who smoke use menthol cigarettes.

Tax increase is the latest in strong, evidence-based tobacco control policies enacted by New York State to prevent smoking initiation, promote cessation

In 2019, New York raised the minimum legal sale age to purchase tobacco and vapor products to 21, established a 20% tax on vaping products, and required registration for vapor product retailers to regulate the sale of these products to restrict access, especially among young people.

Those policies were followed in 2020 by several strategies that restrict youth access to tobacco and vaping products. Among other things, new state laws ended the sale of tobacco and vapor products in pharmacies, banned the sale of flavored vapor products, ended price discounts on tobacco products, and stopped the shipment and delivery of vapor products to private residences.

Support available for New Yorkers who want to quit smoking and vaping

Health care providers and the New York State Smokers’ Quitline provide support to smokers who want to quit, and quitting leads to fewer smokers, the potential for better health outcomes and reduced health care costs. When health care providers treat nicotine addiction with medication and counseling, it can double or even triple their patients’ chances of success. The New York State Smokers' Quitline is a free and confidential service for all New York State residents who wish to overcome use of commercial tobacco and/or vape products. Participants can receive individualized coaching and assistance with quit planning from highly trained tobacco treatment specialists, text and online chat support, and a free starter supply delivery of nicotine replacement therapy medications such as patches, gum and/or lozenges for those 18 and older. Residents of all ages may contact the Quitline for support and educational materials. Visit anytime or text QUITNOW to 333888 for more information, or call 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487) seven days a week, beginning at 9 a.m.

Reality Check of New York State is funded by the New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Tobacco Control’s, Tobacco Control Program of New York State (TCP). TCP aims to reduce illness, disability and death related to tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure, and to alleviate the social and economic burdens caused by tobacco use.

About NYC Smoke-Free: NYC Smoke-Free, a program of Public Health Solutions, works to protect the health of New Yorkers through advocacy and education. We support local efforts to end the devastating tobacco epidemic throughout NYC, where close to 1 million residents smoke. The majority of smokers start and become hooked before age 18 – it is unacceptable for NYC youth to be lured into a life of tobacco addiction. Every NYC resident has the right to breathe clean, smoke-free air where they live, work and play, and people who smoke deserve the support and resources to quit. Learn more at:

About Public Health Solutions: Public Health Solutions (PHS) is the largest public health nonprofit serving New York City. For over 60 years, PHS has improved health outcomes and helped families thrive by providing services directly to the city’s most vulnerable populations, publishing groundbreaking research and supporting over 200 community-based organizations through our long-standing government partnerships. We are a leader in addressing crucial public health issues, including food and nutrition, health insurance access, maternal and child health, reproductive health, tobacco control and HIV/AIDS prevention. PHS has a strong focus on health equity to ensure NYC families have the basics for a healthier life.

Julia Cuthbertson is the Brooklyn Community Engagement Manager of NYC Smoke-Free at Public Health Solutions, where she works to end the devastating tobacco epidemic and protect the health of all New Yorkers through tobacco control policy, advocacy and education.