New Cig Taxes, Regs Impact Rockaway Business
By Howard Schwach
When Mukesh Patel took over the Tobacconist on Beach 116 Street he did a steady business in the sale of cigarette packs and even cartons.
"When I first came here, a little more than a year ago, I was selling more than 25 cartons of cigarettes each day," Patel told The Wave from behind the counter of his store, surrounded by cigarettes, cigars and lottery tickets.
"Now, it’s a lot different" he added, "I’m lucky if I sell 10 cartons a day."
Patel figures that he has lost about 65 percent of his business since the city imposed new, higher taxes on cigarettes, and while he is philosophical about it, he is not happy.
"People haven’t stopped smoking," he said. "They have gone to the Internet for their cigarettes, to Nassau County, to Native American sellers and to places that sell cartons of cigarettes by telephone."
Patel is not alone.
Citywide statistics, provided by the city, show that cigarette sales citywide have plunged, with one-third as many packs sold last month as were sold before the city added the additional $1.42 tax that brought the cost above $7 for many consumers.
Mayor Bloomberg, who pushed the tax increase through the City Council, has said that he is not interested in selling more cigarettes or collecting more taxes. He says that he is interested in saving lives by increasing the cost of cigarettes to a point where people will no longer be able to afford to buy them.
Many experts, however say that Bloomberg’s plan to reduce smoking by making the cost prohibitive has failed.
"I buy my cigarettes only on line," said one Queens resident who asked to remain anonymous. "I pay about $2 a pack and that is a lot less than you can get them for in any store."
Before the new tax, Patel bought cartons of cigarettes from his distributor for about $46 a carton. His profit amounted to about $5 a carton. He now must pay $68 a carton for his cigarettes.
"I have a magazine business and a small coffee business," Patel says forlornly, but cigarettes were my money product. That is no longer true."
"I really want to stay here, but I am not sure that I can keep up," he said. "One of my customers told me that he buys Marlboro cigarettes on the Internet and pays $17 a carton. That is less than I pay wholesale. How long can I go on like that?"
The higher tax is only part of Bloomberg’s plan to stamp out smoking. The other part of the plan entails cutting smoking in bars and other public places. He has even spoken about banning smoking on the city’s beaches.
One Rockaway restaurant owner, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Wave that he would close down his restaurant if the city council bans smoking in bars and restaurants.
"It’s not that I can’t stay in business," the owner told us. "It’s that I don’t want to. I want a good cigar after a good meal, and so do many of my customers."
"The people who don’t like smoke should not have to eat where there is smoke, but those who do want to smoke should also have the right to a restaurant where they can smoke," he added.
Meanwhile, it is small business owners such as Patel and many others on the peninsula who get caught in middle of the battle between smokers and those who want to ban smoking.
It is not clear at press time as to when the City Council would vote on the pending legislation banning smoking in bars and other public places.