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Convenience Stores Fighting Albany County Bill That Targets Flavored Tobacco

NYACS President Jim Calvin in Latham.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
NYACS President Jim Calvin meets the press at the Stewart's on Troy-Schenectady Rd. in Latham.

A proposed ban on retail sales of flavored tobacco and electronic cigarette products in Albany County is being challenged by convenience store owners.

The New York Association of Convenience Stores believes Local Law E could result in stores, and the county, losing money. NYACS President Jim Calvin spoke Tuesday in Latham:   "Under Local Law E flavored tobacco would disappear from Albany County convenience stores, causing them economic harm. Yet flavored tobacco would remain abundantly accessible to Albany County residents."

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
"Displaced smokers could simply cross the intersection to buy their brand of flavored products." ~ NYACS Pres. Jim Calvin

Calvin cited major roadways where one side is in Albany County, the other in Schenectady County.  "Displaced smokers could simply cross the intersection to buy their brand of flavored products. This would both defeat the policy and export the sales tax to Schenectady County. And while they're over there they'll also buy the gas and the food and the beverages and the lottery..."

Calvin says stores stand to lose 5 to 10 percent or more of their inside sales, just in tobacco products.  "If they can't find their flavored tobacco product here, they're going to go over there. They're not gonna come back here and buy the gas or come back here and buy the coffee, they're gonna buy it over there. So we lose all that business, Albany County loses all that sales tax revenue."

A spokesperson for Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said the measure is "at the committee meeting level and was tabled by legislators last month. It is on the health committee agenda under previous business for Wednesday night’s meeting. We generally don’t comment at this stage."

Albany County Legislature Chair Andrew Joyce, like McCoy a Democrat, says he expects the measure to move out of committee and go before legislators for a full vote by June.

Flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products on the shelves of a Stewart's store in Latham.
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products can be found on the shelves of a Stewart's Store in Latham.

He added that many of the lawmakers are concerned about children being exposed to smoking, and at least 17 of them are on board with Local Law E.    "We need 20 to pass, so it's gonna be important to see what happens. It's also the opinion of our County Health Commissioner, medical professionals and the American Heart Association, Smoke Free New York.  This local law kind of took a bit of a change after Governor Cuomo banned tobacco products sold to people under the age of 21. It came in the middle of this local law being put forth, and then it took a lot of individuals in the legislature felt, well if it's someone over the age of 21, it's their choice and we shouldn't be telling them what to do. But then there's the other side of the coin where there's evidence that these products are being marketed to people under the age of 21."

Calvin pointed out that while Local Law E acknowledges that 5 percent of retailers statewide sold tobacco to minors between 2010 and 2012, the rate among Albany County retailers that same period was less than one-half of one percent.

Hinting that the legislature was on the wrong path, Democratic County Comptroller Mike Conners says tobacco legislation should be addressed at the state or federal level.   "I think we oughta take care of the poor in our county. That's the first thing we should do. That'll save county taxpayers money, and more importantly, it'll make us more competitive because we'll have more people in the workforce available, ready, willing and able to work to fill the jobs that are open now."

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