ALBANY, NY - A New York bill that sought to tax loose tobacco rolled in stores the same as cigarettes died in a state Senate committee last week, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The bill had already passed the state€™s Assembly and received the support of Governor Cuomo, cigarette manufacturers, and the American Cancer Society €" a potent alliance that some speculate was defeated by the work of a skillful lobbyist.
"It's impossible for us to know everything that happened, but apparently one company with a $10,000-a-month lobbyist was able to block a bill that would stop tax evasion, prevent residential fires and encourage smokers to quit," said Russ Sciandra, state director of advocacy for the American Cancer Society.
According to the WSJ, that lobbyist was former U.S. Senator Alfonse D€™Amato (R-NY), whose firm, D€™Amato€™s Park Strategies was hired by RYO Filling Station, aka Roll Your Own Machine €" at a fee of $10,000 a month.
While the Senate defeat is a win for RYO, the company is not at ease as the bill might resurface in a November session. "We're breathing a little easier but by no means is the fight over," said Bea Gonzalez, spokeswoman for the RYO company.
This year, more than two dozen states have introduced legislation to reclassify stores that offer RYO facilities as manufacturers, thus leveling the products€™ taxes with cigarettes.
The disparity is significant in New York: RYO cigarettes in some cases cost less than $38 per carton, versus $125 in New York City. As such, it has fueled a stiff fight from the tobacco industry.
"This is a very significant growing subset of the industry," said David Sutton, senior manager of media affairs at Altria Client Services, parent company for Philip Morris USA.
"This is clearly a loophole that's being exploited," he said.