On Thursday, three state legislators introduced a bill that would prohibit the sale of single-use cigarette butts, as well as attachable filters and single-use electronic cigarettes, throughout the state. Called the Tobacco Product Waste Reduction Act, the legislation is framed as an anti-pollution measure, as the butts often wind up in waterways and beaches.
But State Senator Liz Krueger, the bill's sponsor, concedes that the actual impact could be much larger, effectively banning all cigarettes—with the exception of the far less popular unfiltered varieties offered by brands like Lucky Strike and Pall Mall.
"Yes, it would ban the sale of the majority of cigarettes marketed by the tobacco industry now," Krueger told Gothamist. "People have talked about doing this for years and years, but the tobacco industry is just too powerful. I think it's worth a try."
Such legislation does not appear to have precedent in the United States. A similar proposal was introduced in California in 2018, but did not make it out of committee.
Edward Paltzik, an attorney for the smoker's rights group NYC CLASH, said there was likely no legal basis for the ban.
"You can't just decide that a widely used product is suddenly illegal," he said. "There's no guiding legislation at the federal level. It's not a controlled substance. You're talking about prohibition."
An attempt by Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban certain e-cigarette pods was recently blocked by a state Supreme Court judge. "This is another tyrannical move by nanny state lawmakers," added Audrey Silk, CLASH's founder. "The hysteria over a legal lifestyle choice has become a cult."
Krueger, meanwhile, pointed to both the health and environmental benefits of the proposal. While it was once widely believed that filtered cigarettes were healthier than their unfiltered counterparts, new research suggests otherwise. One study found that smokers take deeper drags when cigarettes are ventilated, potentially upping the likelihood of developing lung cancer.
The far-reaching proposal comes as New York has adopted a range of policies aimed at undercutting smoking rates. The state recently passed legislation that raised the legal age to purchase cigarettes and e-cigarettes to 21. Last month, Governor Cuomo announced plans to crack down on retailers selling untaxed cigarettes.
"It's 2020. We have all this evidence that smoking is horrendously dangerous and drives up the cost of health care in this country," said Krueger. "Why shouldn't we talk about banning it?"