New York’s state government has a reputation for nanny-state-ism. But even with that reputation in mind, many were surprised by the news that Governor Kathy Hochul’s administration is reportedly considering a flat ban on the sale of tobacco products in New York.
“The pro-legal weed Hochul administration is quietly trying to fire up support for a complete ban on the sale of tobacco products in New York,” the New York Post reports. “The state Health Department commissioned a new survey aimed at gauging support for an all-out prohibition — despite Gov. Hochul’s failure to secure support from state legislators to include a ban on menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products in the yet-to-be-approved state budget.”
— New York Post (@nypost) April 22, 2023
“An outright ban being considered… is all new territory,” an anonymous source told the Post. “And I’ve never seen anything like this where [the state] uses this kind of focus grouping, alliance building, momentum building.”
If the Hochul administration does move forward with such a plan, it would be an enormous mistake.
For one, it’s a simple matter of freedom. Smoking cigarettes is bad for you, and people really shouldn’t do it if they care about their long-term health. But we live in a free country, and freedom for adults necessarily means the freedom to make bad decisions about their own lives.
Secondly, banning the legal sale of tobacco products in New York wouldn’t erase the massive demand for these products. It would simply move the entire market underground, leading to a huge spike in black market activity. That means a big risk of product contamination, huge amounts of lost tax revenue, and a rise in conflict between the police and everyday New Yorkers.
Don’t forget that the now infamous case of Eric Garner, who was killed by NYPD officers, all happened over him selling cigarettes under the table. Tragedies like this would become even more common if the entire tobacco industry was pushed into the black market in New York.
“I think it would be bizarre for the state to create another category of illegal product that could lead to more conflict between law enforcement and the community,” the New York Association of Convenience Store Owners President Kent Sopris told the Post.
More broadly, all this would be a boon to criminals and gangs—who’d gain huge new revenue sources—while hurting legal enterprises and law-abiding business owners who rely on cigarette sales to stay afloat.
Some have pointed out the seeming inconsistency if the Hochul administration were to ban tobacco products while allowing recreational marijuana. Then again, many of those pointing out this inconsistency, like Sen. Ted Cruz, are inconsistent in their own right, because they’re outraged over the prospect of banning tobacco sales but don’t support marijuana legalization.
Now do pot. https://t.co/he6U5WaPnG
— Brad Polumbo 🇺🇸⚽️🏳️🌈 (@brad_polumbo) April 23, 2023
The right answer here is clear. New Yorkers should pressure Kathy Hochul to abandon this absurd idea. New York desperately needs policy reforms that make doing legal business easier, not harder, and that discourage crime rather than embolden it.