Bloomberg wants to raise age limit for buying cigarettes — vitals

No one under 21 would be able to buy cigarettes in New York City, under a new proposal announced Monday that marks the latest in a decade of moves to crack down on smoking in the nation’s largest city.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn discussed details of a proposed law that would raise the minimum age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21. City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, some of Quinn’s fellow City Council members and health advocates were to join her.

Under federal law, no one under 18 can buy tobacco anywhere in the country, but some states and localities have raised it to 19. Texas lawmakers recently tried to increase the minimum age to 21, but the plan stalled.

Public health advocates say a higher minimum age discourages, or at least delays, young people from starting smoking and thereby limits their health risks. But opponents of such measures have said 18 year olds, legally considered adults, should be able to make their own decisions about whether or not to smoke.

Some communities, including Needham, Mass., have raised the minimum age to 21, but New York would be the biggest city to do so.

«With this legislation, we’ll be targeting the age group at which the overwhelming majority of smokers start,» Quinn said.

Officials say 80 percent of NYC smokers started before age 21, and an estimated 20,000 New York City public high school students now smoke. While it’s already illegal for many of them to buy cigarettes, officials say this measure would play a key role by making it illegal for them to turn to slightly older friends to buy smokes for them. The vast majority of people who get asked to do that favor are between 18 and 21 themselves, city officials say.

«We know that enforcement is never going to be perfect,» but this measure should make it «much harder» for teens to get cigarettes, Farley said.

The Richmond, Va. based Altria Group Inc., parent company of Philip Morris USA, which makes the top selling Marlboro brand, had no immediate comment, said spokesman David Sutton. He previously noted that the company supported federal legislation that in 2009 gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco products, which includes various retail restrictions.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the health commissioners he has appointed, including Farley, New York has rolled out a slate of anti smoking initiatives.

Bloomberg, a billionaire who has given $600 million of his own money to anti smoking efforts around the world, began taking on tobacco use in the city shortly after he became mayor in 2002.

Over his years in office, the city at times with the council’s involvement helped impose the highest cigarette taxes in the country, barred smoking at parks and on beaches and conducted sometimes graphic advertising campaigns about the hazards of smoking.

Last month, the Bloomberg administration unveiled a proposal to keep cigarettes out of sight in stores until an adult customer asks for a pack, as well as stopping shops from taking cigarette coupons and honoring discounts.

Bloomberg’s administration and public health advocates praise the initiatives as bold moves to help people live better. Adult smoking rates in the city have fallen from 21.5 percent in 2002 to 14.8 percent in 2011, Farley has said.

But the measures also have drawn complaints, at least initially, that they are nannyish and bad for business.

Several of New York City’s smoking regulations have survived court challenges. But a federal appeals court said last year that the city couldn’t force tobacco retailers to display gruesome images of diseased lungs and decaying teeth.

Quinn, a leading Democratic candidate to succeed Bloomberg next year, has often been perceived as an ally of his.

Bloomberg also has pushed a number of other pioneering public health measures, such as compelling chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus, banning artificial trans fats in restaurants, and attempting to limit the size of sugary drinks. A court struck down the big beverage rule last month, but the city is appealing and Bloomberg has urged voluntary compliance in the meantime.

While Bloomberg has led the way on many anti smoking initiatives, this one arose from the City Council, Farley said. City Councilman James Gennaro, who lost his mother to lung cancer after she smoked for decades, has been a particularly strong advocate.

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Nyc increases minimum age to buy cigarettes to 21

NEW YORK Young New Yorkers who want to light up will soon have to wait for their 21st birthdays before they can buy a pack of smokes after lawmakers in the nation’s most populous city voted overwhelmingly to raise the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21.

The City Council’s vote Wednesday makes New York the biggest city to bar cigarette sales to 19 and 20 year olds, and one of only a few places throughout the United States that have tried to stymie smoking among young people by raising the purchasing age. The council also approved a bill that sets a minimum $10.50 a pack price for tobacco cigarettes and steps up law enforcement on illegal tobacco sales.

«We know that tobacco dependence can begin very soon after a young person first tries smoking so it’s critical that we stop young people from smoking before they ever start,» Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement after the council’s vote.

Bloomberg, a strong supporter of tough smoking restrictions, has 30 days to sign the bills into law. The minimum age bill will take effect 180 days after enactment.

The city’s current age limit is 18, a federal minimum that’s standard in many places. Smoking in city parks and beaches already is prohibited as it is in restaurants.

Advocates say higher age limits help prevent, or at least delay, young people from taking up a habit that remains the leading cause of preventable deaths nationwide.

But cigarette manufacturers have suggested young adult smokers may just turn to black market merchants. And some smokers say it’s unfair and patronizing to tell people considered mature enough to vote and serve in the military that they’re not old enough to decide whether to smoke.

«New York City already has the highest cigarette tax rate and the highest cigarette smuggling rate in the country,» said Bryan D. Hatchell , a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which makes Camel and other brands. «Those go hand in hand and this new law will only make the problem worse.»

Another anti smoking initiative pushed by the Bloomberg administration was previously shelved ahead of Wednesday’s vote forcing stores to keep cigarettes out of public view until a customer asks for them.

Newsstand clerk Ali Hassen, who sells cigarettes daily to a steady stream of customers from nearby office buildings, said he didn’t know if the new age restrictions would do any good.

While he wouldn’t stop vigilantly checking identification to verify customers’ age, Hassen doubted the new rules would thwart determined smokers.

«If somebody wants to smoke, they’re going to smoke,» he said.

Similar legislation to raise the purchasing age is expected to come to a vote in Hawaii this December. The tobacco buying age is 21 in Needham, Mass., and is poised to rise to 21 in January in nearby Canton, Mass. New Jersey also is considering a similar proposal.

«It just makes it harder for young people to smoke,» said Stephen McGorry, 25, who started smoking at 19. He added that had the age been 21 when he took up the habit, «I guarantee I wouldn’t be smoking today.»

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