PORT CHESTER — The former ice-cream truck parked at a local gas station doesn’t play a jingle and doesn’t offer sprinkles.
It sells packs of cigarettes — ID required.
A month ago, in response to a cigarette tax increase in New York, the Sunoco station on West Putnam Avenue moved its packs off the shelves and across the parking lot, just over the Connecticut state line. What sold for $10.12 a pack inside the store sells for $8.50 from the shop-on-wheels, manager Farooq Mahammad said.
The arrangement is legal, and licensed under the name F&S Petroleum, according to Connecticut officials. But a Port Chester community group — having pounded the pavement to fight the marketing of cigarettes to young people — does not see the truck in good humor.
“It’s a symbol of pureness and goodness,” Council of Community Services Executive Director Daniel Lipka said of the vehicle, now a forlorn-looking machine with most of the ice-cream ads stripped off.
Having seen his 6-year-old daughter light up at the bell of an ice-cream truck, Lipka had no doubt that the cigarette truck would have the same effect on children.
“Whatever is advertised to her, she likes,” he said.
The Port Chester Cares Community Coalition, an offshoot of the council, organized teams of adults and teenagers over the past two summers to talk with retailers in a campaign called “Operation Storefront.”
One main message was that it’s dangerous to put tobacco and kid-friendly products together because it encourages underage smoking, coalition director Jenny Myers said.
Tobacco products may be sold only to those 18 and older in both New York and Connecticut.
Asked about the concerns, Mahammad noted that stores commonly sell both candy and cigarettes. He noted that the truck’s ice-cream ads had been removed. Customers, he said, are saving $2 a pack.
Javier Rivera, a limousine driver who regularly stops to buy cigarettes for co-workers, said he often sees lines form at the truck at 11 p.m., as people head out to bars.
“It’s a good deal. This guy, he’s making money,” Rivera said.
Connecticut puts a $3 tax on a pack of 20 cigarettes. New York raised its tax by $1.60 in July to $4.35 a pack.
New York City adds a local tax, bringing the surcharge to $5.85 there.
The coalition and other advocates still plan to bring their concerns to the gas station’s owners.
Port Chester school board member Blanca Lopez said the truck threatens to roll back the strides made by the village and school district against underage drinking and smoking.
“This is staring right at us in the face,” she said, “and we realize there’s just so much to do.”
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