The City Council took up controversial measures to tackle smoking rates among teens Thursday, and small business owners let council members know that they're not happy with what they call burdensome bills. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Several small business owners spoke out against the latest crop of anti-tobacco legislation at a City Council health hearing Thursday.
"For this body and the mayor to assault these businesses and to drive the biggest black market in the history of the city of New York, rivaling the drug market, that is unconscionable," said David Schwartz of the New York Association of Grocery Stores.
The proposed bills would, among other things, raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21, prohibit retailers from accepting tobacco coupons, and require little cigars and cigarillos be sold in packs.
"It is mandates like these that force responsible, compliant small business out of business," said Chong Sik Lee of the New York Korean American Grocers Association.
Even one council member, Peter Vallone Jr., expressed hesitancy with a bill that would fine shop owners if they openly display tobacco products.
"These goals are good ones, but I'm also a business person, and these businesses are struggling," Vallone Jr. said. "A $1,000 fine for leaving a drawer open is too much."
Even with the concerns from bodega owners and others within the city's small business community, it seems there's strong support within the City Council to push the bills forward.
"What I mainly heard today was extreme support from these council members, and I'm extremely excited at how many people really want to keep our young people from smoking," said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.
"We're going to work hand in glove with small businesses to make sure the city gets off of their back, but we just can't allow smoking to continue to skyrocket for children," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
Before the hearing, anti-smoking advocates held a rally outside City Hall calling for swift action on the bill.
"We know that more than 100,000 young people continue to smoke in our city, and approximately 80 percent of city residents who smoke started before the age of 21," said Dr. Tara Narula, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital.
The bills have to clear the health committee before going to the full City Council for a vote.