NY Gov. Kathy Hochul ‘test-marketing’ a ban on all tobacco sales by Rich Calder

NY Governor Kathy Hochul.

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 Post has learned.

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.

“What is your opinion about a policy that would end the sale of all tobacco products in New York within 10 years?” were among the questions asked last week in the “New York Local Opinion Leaders Survey,” examined by the Post.

Another asks: “What is your opinion about a policy that would ban the sale of all tobacco products to those born after a certain date? For example, those born after the year 2010 or later would never be sold tobacco.”

The poll also solicited input on whether there’s backing for other tobacco-related measures, including capping the number of retailers who can sell “products in a community” and prohibiting its sales near schools.

The survey, conducted by nonprofit research organization RTI International, was distributed to “community leaders” statewide, including “county legislators and county directors of public health,” according to an April 13 memo to prospective participants from Jennifer Lee, director of the Health Department’s Bureau of Tobacco Control.

It’s obvious the Health Department is “test marketing” potential new smoking policies, and such surveys are not typically funded by taxpayers but through private companies, think tanks, or political campaigns, an Albany insider said.

“An outright ban being considered … is all new territory,” the insider said. “And I’ve never seen anything like this where [the state] uses this kind of focus grouping, alliance building, momentum building.”

Kent Sopris, president of the New York Association of Convenience Store Owners, predicted a ban would put many stores out of business but wouldn’t stop tobacco use because smokers would just buy cigarettes out of state, online, or illegally on the black market.

“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,” he said.

And he said it was disingenuous of Hochul to kick off a public awareness campaign last week encouraging New Yorkers to buy regulated marijuana products at legalized cannabis dispensaries — considering the thousands of illegal pot shops that have sprung up since recreational cannabis use was legalized in 2021.

Another question in the Health Department poll asks if New Yorkers would back banning tobacco sales to anyone born after 2010.

“If you are out there advocating for the expanded sale of retail cannabis that sells candied flavored options, how can you tell regulated legal convenience stores they can’t sell menthol cigarettes to adults?” Sopris fumed.

Hochul’s own budget proposal noted banning flavored tobacco products would cost the state $133 million in lost tax revenues this fiscal year, which began April 1 — and $255 million more in fiscal 2025.

Flavored products — including menthols — make up about 40% of all legal tobacco sales in New York, said Sopris.

Hochul’s office did not return messages, but Health Department spokesman Cort Ruddy said the questions asked in the survey “do not indicate whether the department supports or opposes the policies they highlight.”

Ruddy also said soliciting the opinion of local leaders “is crucial for effective public health,” adding the department has been conducting similar surveys on “tobacco, youth vaping, and other important topics for more than a decade.”

The department, however, couldn’t immediately provide evidence of earlier local leader polls focusing on banning all tobacco products.

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