Philly officials fear late addition to state budget could harm health of low-income teens

City officials say it will result in more teens getting hooked on tobacco.

Pat Loeb
July 05, 2018 - 4:31 pm

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- Philadelphia officials are denouncing a provision, tucked into the state budget bill at the last minute, that they say will result in more teenagers getting hooked on tobacco. But there's little they can do about it.

As the state's only first class city, Philadelphia has been able to regulate tobacco sales, a power it's embraced to cut down on its very high rates of smoking, especially among low-income teens. But lawmakers took that power away in the budget, arguing that declining cigarette sales are a money issue because they lower revenue from the cigarette tax, which helps fund city schools.

"That's a completely bogus argument," said Health Commissioner Tom Farley..."I can only interpret this that the big tobacco companies don't like that we're trying to protect our kids from the number one killer, which is tobacco."

Farley says the provision halts a bill, already through committee in city council, that would restrict sales of candy flavored cigarillos, which have no impact on the cigarette tax but are effective at getting kids to smoke.

"In Philadelphia now teenagers are more likely to smoke cigars and cigarillos than cigarettes," he said, "so this is the primary way that kids begin smoking today is with these cheap, candy-flavored cigarillos.

Farley admits the provision is lawful, but argues it's not right.

"State laws can be changed," he said, "and we hope that maybe some future state legislature would rethink this and give Philadelphia what it deserves, which is the right to protect its own kids."