During a brief ceremony at City Hall, Bloomberg said raising the legal purchase age from 18 to 21 will help prevent young people from experimenting with tobacco at the age when they are most likely to become addicted. City health officials say 80 percent of smokers start before age 21.
The mayor, a former smoker, also signed legislation setting a minimum price for all cigarettes sold in the city $10.50 per pack. The same new law bans retailers from offering coupons, 2 for 1 specials, or other discounts.
In signing the bills, Bloomberg turned away criticism that the measures would be economically harmful to thousands of city convenience stores and possibly lead to job losses.
“This is an issue of whether we are going to kill people,” Bloomberg said. People who raise the economic argument, he said, “really ought to look in the mirror and be ashamed.”
The ban does have limitations. People under age 21 can still possess tobacco legally, they just can’t buy it. Underage smokers will still be able to steal cigarettes from their parents, bum them from friends, stock up during trips beyond city limits or buy them from the black market dealers common in many neighborhoods.
Young smokers puffing away outside the main library at New York University on Tuesday ridiculed the law as an infringement on personal freedoms and questioned whether it would really lead to reduced smoking rates.
“I think Bloomberg has just exponentially increased the fake ID industry in New York,” said Jakob Sacksofsky Bereck, age 19.
“It’s obviously going to make life more complicated, said fellow student Josh Kundert Gibbs, also 19. “We are going to have to buy in bulk.”
Both said, though, that they regretted ever having started smoking in the first place.
City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the idea is to make it more inconvenient for young people to start smoking regularly, especially young teens who now have easy access to cigarettes through slightly older peers.
“Right now, an 18 year old can buy for a 16 year old,” he said. Once the law takes effect, in 180 days, Farley said, that 16 year old would “have to find someone in college or out in the workforce.”
The city estimated that there are 27,000 New Yorkers ages 18 to 20 who smoke.
Tobacco companies and some retailers had opposed the age increase, saying it would simply drive people to the city’s thriving black market.
“What are you really accomplishing? It’s not like they are going to quit smoking. Why? Because there are so many other places they can buy cigarettes,” said Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores. “Every 18 year old who walks out of a convenience store is just going to go to the guy in the white van on the corner.”
Large cigarette companies now commonly offer merchants incentives to run price promotions to bring in new customers. Those discounts, though, will be banned by the new law, which aims to keep the price of cigarettes high as a way of deterring smokers. The city already has the nation’s highest cigarette taxes.
Calvin said the elimination of discounts would further feed the drift away from legal cigarettes, and toward illicit supplies brought into the city by dealers who buy them at greatly reduced prices in other states, where tobacco taxes are low.
Both bills were passed by the City Council late last month. The legislation also prohibits the sale of small cigars in packages of less than 20 and increases penalties for retailers that violate sales regulations.
Eligible food items
Households CAN use SNAP benefits to buy
- Foods for the household to eat, such as
- breads and cereals
- fruits and vegetables
- meats, fish and poultry and
- dairy products.
- Seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.
In some areas, restaurants can be authorized to accept SNAP benefits from qualified homeless, elderly, or disabled people in exchange for low cost meals.
Households CANNOT use SNAP benefits to buy
- Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco
- Any nonfood items, such as
- pet foods
- soaps, paper products
- household supplies
- Vitamins and medicines
- Food that will be eaten in the store
- Hot foods
Junk Food & Luxury Items
The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (the Act) defines eligible food as any food or food product for home consumption and also includes seeds and plants which produce food for consumption by SNAP households. The Act precludes the following items from being purchased with SNAP benefits alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, hot food and any food sold for on premises consumption. Nonfood items such as pet foods, soaps, paper products, medicines and vitamins, household supplies, grooming items, and cosmetics, also are ineligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.
- Soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are food items and are therefore eligible items
- Seafood, steak, and bakery cakes are also food items and are therefore eligible items
Since the current definition of food is a specific part of the Act, any change to this definition would require action by a member of Congress. Several times in the history of SNAP, Congress had considered placing limits on the types of food that could be purchased with program benefits. However, they concluded that designating foods as luxury or non nutritious would be administratively costly and burdensome. Further detailed information about the challenges of restricting the use of SNAP benefits can be found here
Report Implications of Restricting the use of Food Stamp Benefits
When considering the eligibility of energy drinks, and other branded products, the primary determinant is the type of product label chosen by the manufacturer to conform to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines
- Energy drinks that have a nutrition facts label are eligible foods
- Energy drinks that have a supplement facts label are classified by the FDA as supplements, and are therefore not eligible
Generally live animals and birds are not eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits. Live fish such as lobsters and other shellfish may be purchased with SNAP benefits.
Pumpkins, Holiday Gift Baskets, and Special Occasion Cakes
Pumpkins are edible and eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits. However, inedible gourds and pumpkins that are used solely for ornamental purposes are not eligible items.
Gift baskets that contain both food and non food items, are not eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits if the value of the non food items exceeds 50 percent of the purchase price. To read our most recent notice about Gift Baskets, click here.
Items such as birthday and other special occasion cakes are eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits as long as the value of non edible decorations does not exceed 50 percent of the purchase price of the cake.
Listing of Eligible Food Items
- How FNS Determines Product Eligibility for SNAP Purchase
- Generic Product Determinations