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Low-income smokers in N.Y. spend quarter of income on cigarettes

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Low-income smokers in New York state spent close to 25 percent of their income on cigarettes in 2010-2011, according to a study conducted by the Public Health and Policy Research program of Research Triangle Institute International.

The report, which released last month, showed that New York has an lower smoking rate than the rest of the nation overall — 16.1 percent compared to 22.2 percent — the report reveals that low-income smokers take a bigger hit in New York than across the country.

According to the report, those belonging to the lowest income group — those that make less than $30,000 anually — in the state spent 23.6 percent of their annual household income on cigarettes, compared to 14.2 percent nationally.

Grace Nathans, a freshman in the NYU College of Nursing, said the only dent taxes have on smokers is on their wallets, not their habits.

“I think that addictions are addictions and adults should be able to make their own decisions, regardless if its detrimental to their health,” Nathans said. “People have clearly proven that they’re going to buy cigarettes no matter what the cost, so raising the tax seems like it will just hurt, not help.”

Audrey Silk, founder of the group NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harrassment, said this is due to their societal disadvantages in an increasingly health-conscious world.

“This study forces the anti-smokers to admit that punitive cigarette taxes are undeniably regressive,” Silk said. “But there’s good reason to fear that their solution to this glitch in their anti-smoker experiment will be to punish smokers more severely.”

Sally Guttmacher, professor of Public Health at NYU, draws a direct correlation between the likelihood of smoking and one’s education level.

“Smoking is inversely related to education. That is, people with more education are less inclined to smoke,” Guttmacher said. “So, it follows that people with a lower income who smoke will be spending more of their income on cigarettes. Most NYU students are not from low income families, so I think they would be like others in their social class.”

Though prices that average about $13 per-pack prove to be a potent hit on the low-income smoker’s bank account, NYU students are not at all exempt from the fallout of heavy prices.

Steinhardt senior Jonny Flannes, who estimated that he spends around $150 per month on cigarettes, recognized the problem raised by this report.

“I’m from California, where cigarette packs are like $4, so I started smoking out there,” she said. “I think it’s sad, you know?”

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 2 print edition. Helen Holmes is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected] 

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