NYC Prohibits Sale of Tobacco Products to Anyone Under 21

Bloomberg signs bill that includes e-cigs; also bans cigarette coupons, more

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg

NEW YORK -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed legislation Tuesday banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, making New York the first large city or state in the country to prohibit sales to young adults, according to an Associated Press report.

During a brief ceremony at City Hall, Bloomberg said: "The first two of nine bills before me today further our successful efforts to reduce smoking in New York City. Introductory Number 250-A … raises the legal age to sell tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21, which will prevent young people from experimenting with tobacco when they are most likely to become addicted.

"Any person operating a place of business where cigarettes, tobacco products or electronic cigarettes are sold or offered for sale will be prohibited from selling such products to anyone under the age of 21, and they will be required to post a sign in a conspicuous location stating the new law. Sales of these products shall be made only to an individual who demonstrates, through a driver's license or other photographic identification card issued by a government entity or educational institution, that the individual is at least 21 years of age."

He continued: "Next is Introductory Number 1021-A. … This legislation will curb the evasion of cigarette taxes; ban the redemption of coupons and other price reduction instruments in the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to consumers; create a price floor for a pack of cigarettes and little cigars; and require inexpensive cigars to be sold in packages of no fewer than four.

"In addition this law will allow the Department of Finance to seal the premises of those retailers who violate the law three times over three year period. Cigarette tax evasion puts law-abiding retailers at a competitive disadvantage relative to retailers and street sellers selling untaxed cigarettes. Cigarette tax evasion also hurts the government and taxpayers. New York State's Department of Health estimated that cigarette excise tax evasion deprived the state of $500 million in 2009, Bloomberg said.

Tobacco companies and some retailers had opposed the age increase, saying it would simply drive teenagers to the city's thriving black market.

"What are you really accomplishing? It's not like they are going to quit smoking. Why? Because there are so many other places they can buy cigarettes," Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS), told AP. "Every 18-year-old who walks out of a convenience store is just going to go to the guy in the white van on the corner."

Large cigarette companies now commonly offer merchants incentives to run price promotions to bring in new customers. Those discounts, though, will be banned by the new law, which aims to keep the price of cigarettes high as a way of deterring smokers. The city already has the nation's highest cigarette taxes.

Calvin said the elimination of discounts would further feed the drift away from legal cigarettes, and toward illicit supplies brought into the city by dealers who buy them at greatly reduced prices in other states, where tobacco taxes are low.

Both bills were passed by the City Council late last month. The legislation also prohibits the sale of small cigars in packages of less than 20 and increases penalties for retailers that violate sales regulations.