Earlier this week, the New York City Council took an historic and bold step to reduce youth smoking rates. The City Council passed the "Tobacco 21" and "Sensible Tobacco Enforcement (STE)" bills to raise the minimum legal sale age of tobacco products to 21 from 18 and to combat illegal cigarette smuggling and stop tobacco industry discounting. By delaying youth's and young adults' access to tobacco products and cracking down on coupons and tobacco tax evasion, we're preventing the next generation of New Yorkers from becoming addicted to smoking and ultimately saving thousands of lives.
When the bill is signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg, New York City will be the first large city in the country to have a minimum smoking age above 19.
Young people often get cigarettes from older friends or even family members. In fact, one study showed that 90 percent of people purchasing cigarettes for minors are 18 to 20 years old. Under the new minimum age of 21, New York City high school students will neither be able to purchase cigarettes themselves nor to get their 19- or 20-year-old friends to buy cigarettes for them.
And the longer we can prevent someone from trying cigarettes, the less likely it is that s/he will become a regular smoker: young experimental smokers typically become regular smokers around age 20. People who begin smoking at such an early age are more likely to develop a severe addition to nicotine than those who start at a later age.
Critics have argued that raising the minimum legal sale age to 21 will only fuel the black market and increase the smuggling of illegal cigarettes. The STE bill directly addresses this issue by increasing penalties to retailers who sell illegal cigarettes, shuttering premises of repeat violators, and expanding enforcement authority to stop smugglers.
Additionally, STE prohibits tobacco companies from offering discounts to entice new smokers and sets a minimum price of $10.50 for a pack of cigarettes or little cigars. This price floor will level the playing field for honest retailers who play by the rules and don't sell loose, unstamped or illegal tobacco products.
Youth smoking rates in our City declined to a low 8.5 percent in 2007, but progress has stalled since then. By reducing access to tobacco products and ensuring high prices, these new laws will work to reduce youth smoking rates and prevent them from starting a deadly habit.
While we celebrate these victories, we are disappointed that the proposed "Tobacco Product Display Restriction" bill, originally introduced with Tobacco 21 and STE, did not move forward. We believe that keeping tobacco products out of sight in retail stores is another effective strategy to prevent youth smoking. Research shows that kids who shop at stores with tobacco marketing and product displays two or more times a week are 64 percent more likely to start smoking than their peers who don't. We can't ignore the evidence, especially when the tobacco industry spends $213.5 million a year in New York State alone on tobacco marketing.
Ten years ago, under Mayor Bloomberg, New York City made history with the Smoke-Free Air Act, which ensured all New Yorkers were able to breathe clean, smoke-free air in the workplace.
With these measures that will both work to reduce youth smoking in our City, we're making history again.