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Council Vote Raises Tobacco Buying Age To 21

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The City Council on Wednesday approved several anti-tobacco measures, including one that raises the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

City officials say their goal is to crack down on teen smoking, which was on the decline from 2001 to 2007 but hasn't moved since. 

"We have to do more, and that's what we're doing today. We're targeting the age group at which the overwhelming majority of smokers start," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Once signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which is expected, retailers will be prohibited from selling any tobacco product to kids under 21. The measure also includes electronic cigarettes. 

"We're very worried if they start out with e-cigarettes, they'll become addicted to nicotine and then they may switch to regular cigarettes later on," said Dr. Thomas Farley, the New York City health commissioner.

The move was applauded by adults, but some younger New Yorkers were not so happy.

"You're an adult. You should be able to buy a pack of cigarettes," said one person. "I mean, you can think for yourselves."

"I just think it's ridiculous," said another. "Let us be. Let us live."

Retailers are also banned from accepting or offering discounts on tobacco products.

The Sensible Tobacco Enforcement bill targets retailers who evade tobacco taxes or sell without a license. 

Convenience store owners, meanwhile, staunchly oppose the measures. They say that the city has the wrong focus and that it's going to hurt their bottom line. 

"Eighteen- and 19- and 20-year-olds who smoke won't be able to buy cigarettes in our stores, but they'll still be able to smoke because there's a thriving black market in New York City that accounts for half of the cigarette market here," said James Calvin of the New York Association of Convenience Stores.

Store owners did have one victory. After aggressively lobbying against the mayor's bill prohibiting the displaying of cigarettes in stores, the measure was pulled.

"When we got into the issue of e-cigarettes and what would happen if we prohibited the display of regular cigarettes and not e-cigarettes, it wasn't quite clear how to handle the bill," Farley said.

Quinn said that the display bill is still on the table. 

"We're going to continue to work with the administration and all of the sponsors on the display issue," she said.

Once signed into law by the mayor, the Tobacco 21 legislation goes into effect about six months after. ClientIP:,, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP