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NEW YORK -- The New York City Council is considering legislation that would raise the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 -- up from the current legal age of 18. However, the state's convenience store industry is slamming the proposal.
Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS), said the majority of underage smokers don't buy their cigarettes in a store. Instead, he explained to Politicker, they get cigarettes from older relatives and friends.
"It's doomed to failure, unfortunately, by the sad realities of where kids are getting cigarettes these days," Calvin said, adding that purchases would simply go through untaxed mediums. "There's a thriving black market in all five boroughs, in the streets of New York [and] in neighboring jurisdictions. Nassau County, Westchester County, New Jersey -- all would have lower ages."
Calvin added city officials should focus on making the actual act of underage smoking a civil violation. "Rather than address these problems, the city council leadership chooses to nibble around the edges of the smoking problem by increasing the purchase age," he said.
New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Councilman James F. Gennaro, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley joined with representatives from leading health advocacy organizations to announce the proposed legislation yesterday. The council's Health Committee is expected to review the bill on May 2.
If approved by the city council, the measure would make New York City the first major city in the nation to have a minimum smoking age above 19 years old, according to a council release.
"Too many adult smokers begin this deadly habit before age of 21," Quinn said. "By delaying our city's children and young adults access to lethal tobacco products, we're decreasing the likelihood they ever start smoking, and thus, creating a healthier city."
Quinn is a Democrat hoping to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg as New York City mayor.
"When used as intended, tobacco kills one-third of the people who use it," Farley added. "By raising the legal purchase age to 21, we will prevent a generation of New Yorkers from becoming addicted to smoking and ultimately save thousands of lives."
According to the council release, raising the minimum age to 21 would simplify enforcement for retailers selling tobacco products since New York State driver's licenses already indicate conspicuously when a licensee is under the age 21, but does not do the same for any other age.
Several towns in the United States have raised the tobacco purchase age to 21, including Needham, Mass., in 2005 and Canton, Mass., earlier this month.