New York City Council Raises Legal Age for Tobacco to 21

New York’s City Council voted to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products and electronic cigarettes to 21 from 18, to keep young people from smoking.

The change would make New York the first major U.S. city to raise the minimum age to 21 to buy cigarettes and related items, according to a council statement. It also passed measures yesterday to set a $10.50 minimum price for a pack of 20 cigarettes or little cigars, ban discounting of tobacco products and increase fines for illegal and untaxed sales.

“This legislation will reduce smoking rates among New Yorkers -- especially young New Yorkers -- sparing them years of nicotine addiction and health problems,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Democrat, said in the statement.

The council’s move complements efforts by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to curb smoking. The mayor, a political independent and the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, has worked with the council to raise tobacco taxes and make restaurants and bars smoke-free.

“By increasing the smoking age to 21 we will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking,” Bloomberg said in a statement following the vote. “It’s critical that we stop young people from smoking before they ever start.”

Young Smokers

New York’s youth smoking rate has remained at 8.5 percent since 2007, and 20,000 public-high school students use cigarettes, Quinn said in April when she proposed the measure. By one estimate, raising the purchase age to 21 will reduce smoking among those 18 to 20 years old by as much as 55 percent, said Quinn, who ran unsuccessfully for her party’s nomination to succeed Bloomberg as mayor next year.

More than 80 percent of the city’s adult smokers start before age 21, according to Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. New York, with about 8.3 million residents, is the largest metropolis in the U.S.

Setting $10.50 minimum prices for packs of cigarettes and little cigars won’t stop young people from smoking and will instead drive consumers to illegal sellers, a retailer group said. A group of convenience-store operators said the new rules would lead to fewer jobs.

Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council could be feeding our businesses to the black marketeers who sell tobacco products illegally at lower prices,” Thomas Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, said in a statement.

Penalties for selling to people under 21 include fines of as much as $2,000 for a second offense and license revocation for repeat offenders, the council said.

E-Cigarettes Defined

The measure defines electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, as battery-operated devices that contain nicotine and deliver vapor to be inhaled.

Global e-cigarette sales are projected to double to $3.5 billion this year, from $1.5 billion last year, based on Euromonitor International data.

Demand for the vapor-emitting tubes is increasing on rising retail tobacco prices and growing restrictions on how cigarettes are marketed, according to Bloomberg Industries. It said U.S. cigarette sales fell 1.2 percent in the 52 weeks through mid-October, compared with the same period a year earlier.

The legal age to buy tobacco is 21 in the Boston suburb of Needham and is poised to rise to that level next year in nearby Canton, the Associated Press said. It said New Jersey is considering a similar measure to the one passed in New York, as is Hawaii.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Z. Braun in New York at mbraun6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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