Officials at the Bodega Association of the United States last week vowed to smoke out Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to ban the display of tobacco products in retail stores throughout the five boroughs.
“Where does it end?” association president Ramon Murphy told reporters. “Yesterday he went after sodas, today it’s cigarettes. The next day it’ll be chips, then sugar – and then ice cream,” Murphy said.
Murphy said Bloomberg’s campaigns to ban products will spell an end to bodegas across the city.
“We sold just over $40,000 worth of cigarettes each month for years,” said a manager at the Steinway Newsstand. “Then came Bloomberg,” the manager said. “He put so many taxes on tobacco products that the average person can’t afford to buy them at stores like this.
“We’re down to about $5,000 a month in cigarette sales, thanks to Bloomberg’s taxes,” the manager said. “That’s because people can buy them for a lot less than what we have to charge on any street corner
“We can’t make a living selling gum and newspapers,” the manager said. “We’ve been at this location for more than two decades, but Bloomberg is putting us out of business.”
Bloomberg last week announced new legislation banning the display of tobacco products at nearly all retail outlets, new minimum packaging requirements and stiffer cigarette tax-enforcement measures.
Bloomberg said the measures are designed to reduce the number of young people that smoke – and would help curb the sale of “smuggled” cigarettes.
The move to conceal cigarettes and tobacco products was sparked by a recent report that showed smoking among youths has leveled off in recent years, an administration source said.
“Young people are target of marketing and the availability of cigarettes and this legislation will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking,” Bloomberg said.
Officials at the National Association of Tobacco Outlets said the law “violates first-amendment rights under commercial speech” and have vowed to take the city to court if the measure is approved by the City Council.
A 2011 Retail Advertising Tobacco Survey showed that 80 per cent of the city’s tobacco retailers display cigarettes and other tobacco products behind the checkout counter.
“I don’t understand Bloomberg,” Astoria smokeshop owner Mike Ibad said. Ibad told the Gazette that he believes “young people who want to smoke are going to smoke,” regardless of what they hear about related health risks.
“This mayor doesn’t know young people,” Ibad said. “He obviously doesn’t know that if you tell them not to do something, they’re going to do it, simply because you said, “don’t do it.”
Ibad said smokers that come to his store to buy cigarettes don’t stop to look at the display behind the counter.
“They don’t look left or right,” Ibad said. “They come in because they want a smoke and they’re out of cigarettes, and hiding the cigarettes won’t make a bit of difference to them.”
A portion of the law targets the sale of smuggled, untaxed cigarettes by increasing the fines levied by the city Department of Finance (DOF) for retailers nabbed with the illegal smokes. Under the bill, repeat offenders could be shut down by the city.
“Forty-six per cent of more than 1,900 inspected cigarette retailers were found to be selling unstamped or untaxed product over the past 18 months,” DOF commissioner David Frankel said.
“That’s a staggering number that puts law-abiding businesses at an incredible disadvantage,” Frankel told reporters.
The bill would also prohibit retailers from redeeming manufacturer’s coupons, it would set a $10.50 price minimum for a pack of small cigars and would require “cheap” cigars and cigarettes to be sold in packages of at least two.
“Bloomberg has been killing small businesses since he got into office,” Ibad said. “A lot of retailers are counting the days until he’s gone and they won’t have to face struggle after struggle to survive his ideas.”