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NY Times: New York Approves Law to Raise Tobacco-Purchasing Age to 21

from Anemona Hartocollis of the New York Times:

Buying cigarettes in New York City is about to become a lot harder for young people, as on Wednesday the city adopted the strictest limits on tobacco purchasing of any major American city.

The legal age for buying tobacco, including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos, will rise to 21, from 18, under a bill adopted by the City Council and which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has said he would sign. The new minimum age will take effect six months after signing.

The proposal provoked some protest among people who pointed out that New Yorkers under 21 can drive, vote and fight in wars, and should be considered mature enough to decide whether to buy cigarettes. But the Bloomberg administration’s argument that raising the age to buy cigarettes would discourage people from becoming addicted in the first place won the day.

“This is literally legislation that will save lives,” Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, said shortly before the bill passed 35 to 10.

In pushing the bill, city officials said that the younger people begin smoking, the more likely they were to become addicted. And they pointed out that while the youth smoking rate in the city has declined by more than half at the beginning of the mayor’s administration, to 8.5 percent in 2007 from 17.6 percent in 2001, it has been stalled since then.

Besides raising the age to buy cigarettes, the council also approved an array of other antismoking measures, including increased penalties for retailers who evade tobacco taxes, a prohibition on discounts for tobacco products, and setting a minimum price of $10.50 a pack for cigarettes and little cigars.

The new law is a capstone to more than a decade of antismoking efforts by Mr. Bloomberg, including banning smoking in most public places, giving the city some of the toughest antismoking policies in the world.

In one concession to the cigarette industry, the administration dropped a proposal that would force retailers to keep cigarettes out of sight. City officials said they were doing it because they had not resolved how to deal with the new phenomenon of electronic cigarettes, but others worried that if the tobacco industry lodged a First Amendment challenge to the so-called display ban, it could have derailed the entire package of antismoking measures.

The smoking age is 18 in most of the country, but some states have made it 19. Some counties have also adopted 19, including Nassau and Suffolk on Long Island. Needham, Mass., a suburb of Boston, raised the smoking age to 21 in 2005.

James Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, warned Wednesday that thousands of retail jobs could be lost because the law would reduce traffic not just for tobacco, but also incidental purchases like coffee or lottery tickets. He predicted that the law would do little to curb smoking, as it does not outlaw the possession of cigarettes by underage smokers, only their purchase.

Just before the vote, Nicole Spencer, a 16-year-old wearing a beret and a pair of ripped black stockings, was in Union Square in Manhattan with a cigarette wedged between her fingers, each digit decorated in sparkly polish.

“I don’t think that’s going to work,” Nicole said when she heard about the plan to raise the purchasing age.

She said she began smoking when she was about 13, and had no trouble getting cigarettes. “I buy them off people or I bum them off people,” she said.

She said that “probably half” of her friends at her high school smoked.

Nicole said that while she understood the reasoning behind the proposal, decisions about individual health care should ultimately be “our own.”

She said she thought 18 was a reasonable legal purchasing age. “If you can go into the Army, why can’t you smoke a cigarette?” she said.

30 Oct 2013

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