Health & Human Services

NYC Raises the Legal Smoking Age to 21

November 20, 2013

Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday signed into law a bill that raises the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in New York City to 21 from 18, a policy his administration hopes will be replicated around the globe.

The new law – the strictest of any major city in the nation – is New York’s latest effort to combat smoking in the five boroughs and marks a reversal for Mr. Bloomberg, who previously opposed legislation to increase the minimum age to buy tobacco products. The law will take effect in mid-May, more than five months after Mr. Bloomberg steps down as mayor.

A companion bill, also signed into law by the mayor on Tuesday, creates new penalties for the evasion of cigarette taxes, bans discounts on sales involving cigarettes, sets a price floor on packs of cigarettes and little cigars at $10.50 and requires inexpensive cigars to be sold in packages of no fewer than four.

“People always try to put things like selling cigarettes in the context of jobs and whether or not it helps or hurts stores,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a bill-signing ceremony at City Hall on Tuesday . “I think that is just so outrageously misplaced. This is an issue of whether we’re going to kill people. This century a billion people will die from smoking around the world. And we don’t want any of the people to die to be New Yorkers.”

Mr. Bloomberg, who quit smoking decades ago, said critics of the law who try to frame this issue as hurting the economy “really ought to look in a mirror and be ashamed.”

Thomas Farley, the city’s commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said New York has made tremendous strides in reducing smoking in adults and teens, but he said more progress is needed. City statistics show roughly 20,000 public high-school students smoke in the city, and roughly 80% of all city smokers started before the age of 21. The rate of teenage smoking in the five boroughs fell to 8.5% in 2007, but has remained stagnant ever since.

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