The issue is that the officers used excessive force, including a choke hold banned precisely to avoid this kind of outcome, to detain Garner; and that the officer was given a free pass by the criminal justice system.
Yet again, the cigarette law was merely coincidental to the situation. As I posted earlier, on Nov 22, a 20 year old man named Donovan Lawson illegally jumped a turnstile in the NYC subway. During the arrest, Donovan was beaten on the head with a baton by an arresting officer. Even if you believe that the officer's use of force on Donovan was fully justified, the fact still remains that the type or nature of the offense is not what results in an escalation of the use of force by the officers.
NYPD officer smashes alleged fare beater in head with baton - NY Daily News