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NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 15: Sharon Widermann smokes a cigarette in Tompkins Square Park September 15, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)  NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 15: Sharon Widermann smokes a cigarette in Tompkins Square Park September 15, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)   

State-funded study: Cigarette tax hurts New York’s poor most

A study conducted on behalf of the New York State Department of Health has revealed that cigarette taxes hurt the poorest New Yorkers the most.

Low-income smokers, defined as individuals in households making less than $30,000 a year, spent an average of 23.6 percent of the annual household income on cigarettes. That number is up from 11.6 percent in 2003-2004 and in spite of increasing cigarette taxes imposed by the state and city governments.

By comparison, smokers in households making over $60,000 a year, spent an average of 2.2 percent of their household income on cigarettes.

At $4.35 per pack of 20, New York has the highest state cigarette tax in the country. But the tax on a pack can cost up to $6.46 in the state, when combined with the $0.61 state sales tax and additional city excise tax. New York City, for instance, tacks on $1.50 per pack.

The prevalence of smoking is directly correlated with income level, the study found. 24.3 percent of low-income New Yorkers smoke some days or most days. The study shows no decline in smoking among low-income smokers, despite tax increases since 2003, meaning that the poor bear a disproportionate tax burden.

“This is such a shockingly high proportionate of their income,” said Dr. Matthew Farrelly, the study’s author, in a phone interview with The Daily Caller. “And yet at the same time, New York has cut funding for tobacco control programs by half.”

Farrelly firmly believes that tobacco control programs are effective in helping smokers quit, and he reiterated the study’s conclusion that more revenue from excise taxes should be used to fund these programs.

But Farrelly conceded, “It may be that raising [cigarette] taxes does not work well for low-income smokers.”

And while he also believes the state should continue to look at efforts to curve tax evasion, it is notable that Farrelly believes study findings “support that they [individuals surveyed] were not evading the tax.”

Conducted by the independent, nonprofit RTI International, researchers surveyed more than 13,000 individuals to demonstrate the effect of high cigarette excise taxes on income levels.

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