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Smokers: New cigarette tax leaves a bad taste

(Feb. 2000)

(Feb. 2000) Photo Credit: AP File

A $1.60 tax increase on cigarettes pushed packs to nearly $10 in stores across Long Island Thursday, to the displeasure of smokers and store owners.

"It's killing business," said Kirit Patel, 52, owner of News and Nosh in Hicksville. The tax hike could hit more than just tobacco sales, he said, because cigarette customers often buy more than just smokes - and if they quit smoking, he expects to lose their business.

State officials said the tax hike to $4.35 - the highest in the country - will prevent more than 150,000 kids from becoming smokers and motivate more than 85,000 adults to quit, even as it generates nearly $300 million in tax revenue for the next fiscal year.

But some smokers complained the state will be profiting from their addiction.

"I don't think it's fair for me to be subsidizing New York's budget shortfalls," said Sean McLeod, 26, of North Babylon.

McLeod said he bought a pack of cigarettes Thursday for $10 but plans to switch to rolling his own to cut costs.

Ryan Walsh, 29, of Farmingdale, who said he bought two packs Wednesday to beat the tax hike, said his work environment foiled a previous attempt to quit.

"I do construction," Walsh said, "Everyone I'm around smokes."

Vinny Dellitalia, 39, of Massapequa, bought a pack of Newport Lights Thursday, but said the new tax would encourage him to try quitting after the July Fourth weekend.

"I have patches ready to go," he said.

The state's smoking cessation hotline, Quitline, has received hundreds of additional calls since the tobacco tax hike was announced June 21, said marketing coordinator Patricia Bax.

"We know from the past that taxes motivate people to make that quit attempt," Bax said.

As an incentive, participants at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System'squit-smoking program are given a piggy bank to keep money they would have spent on cigarettes, said Dan Jacobsen, a nurse practitioner at the hospital's Center for Tobacco Control in Great Neck. For a pack-a-day smoker, Jacobsen said, this could mean nearly $3,500 a year.

Suffolk County hasn't yet seen an uptick in enrollment in the free Learn to Be Tobacco Free smoking cessation workshops, Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken said, even as he anticipated an uptick because the tax hike could provide a new incentive.

The group atmosphere at the workshop means smokers "don't feel like they have to go it alone," he said.

Suffolk County's smoking cessation program has treated between 14,000 and 15,000 smokers since 2000, he said, with a 40 percent one-year success rate.

The tax on cigars, snuff and other forms of tobacco will increase to 75 percent of the wholesale price on Aug. 1.

10 tips to help you quit 

1. Don't keep it a secret. Friends and family can offer support.

2. You're not alone. There are lots of support options available.

3. Consider a medication. They can help deal with withdrawal or reduce the urge to smoke.

4. Dump the memories. Clear places where you normally smoke of anything that reminds you of cigarettes.

5. Avoid smokey places. Go to the movies or other places where smoking is not allowed.

6. Stay calm and stay busy. Nervous energy can be countered by physical and mental activities.

7. Talk to your doctor. Check to see what might be the best quitting approach for you.

8. Do something else. When the urge to smoke strikes, take a deep breath, count to 10 and do something else.

9. One will hurt. Just one smoke can get you back in the habit.

10. Water, water everywhere. Drink lots of fluids.

Source: American Cancer Society

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