Friday October 9th, 2015 5:07AM

NYC council votes to make tobacco-buying age 21

By The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) -- Smoking may be a bad habit - but New York City lawmakers want their residents to be older and wiser before deciding to take it up.

The New York City Council voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to raise the age for purchasing cigarettes from 18 to 21, a move that would make the nation's most populous city among only a handful in the United States to target young smokers by barring them from buying smokes. It also approved a bill that sets a minimum $10.50-a-pack price for tobacco cigarettes and steps up law enforcement on illegal tobacco sales.

"This will literally save many, many lives," said an emotional City Councilman James Gennaro, the bill's sponsor, whose mother and father died from tobacco-related illnesses. "I've lived with it, I've seen it ... but I feel good today."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a strong supporter of the tough smoking restrictions, has 30 days to sign the bills into law. The minimum age bill will take effect 180 days after enactment.

"We know that tobacco dependence can begin very soon after a young person first tries smoking so it's critical that we stop young people from smoking before they ever start," Bloomberg said in a statement.

With Wednesday's vote, New York is by far the biggest city to bar cigarette sales to 19- and 20-year-olds. Similar legislation is expected to come to a vote in Hawaii this December. The tobacco-buying age is 21 in Needham, Mass., and is poised to rise to 21 in January in nearby Canton, Mass. The state of New Jersey is also considering a similar proposal.

Lawmakers who pushed for the change site city statistics that show youth smoking rates have plateaued at 8.5 percent since 2007.

"We have to do more and that's what we're doing today," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "We have a real chance of leading the country and the world."

The city's current age limit is 18, a federal minimum that's standard in many places. Smoking in city parks and beaches is already prohibited as it is in restaurants.

Advocates say higher age limits help prevent, or at least delay, young people from taking up a habit that remains the leading cause of preventable deaths nationwide.

Smoker Stephen McGorry, 25, agreed with that view as he took a drag outside a midtown Manhattan bar.

"It just makes it harder for young people to smoke," said McGorry, who started lighting up at 19. He added that had the age been 21 when he took up the habit, "I guarantee I wouldn't be smoking today."

But cigarette manufacturers have suggested young adult smokers may just turn to black-market merchants. And some smokers say it's unfair and patronizing to tell people considered mature enough to vote and serve in the military that they're not old enough to decide whether to smoke.

"New York City already has the highest cigarette tax rate and the highest cigarette smuggling rate in the country," said Bryan D. Hatchell , a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which makes Camel and other brands. "Those go hand in hand and this new law will only make the problem worse."

A coalition of bodegas and tobacco store owners funded by tobacco-manufactures also slammed the council's vote Wednesday, particularly the bill that sets the minimum prices and bans tobacco product discounts and coupons.

Ramon Murphy, president of the Bodega Association of the U.S., said the new rules will drive people to illegal sellers who do not care about the age of their buyers.

Another anti-smoking initiative pushed by the Bloomberg administration was previously shelved ahead of Wednesday's vote.

The mayor proposed in March a bill modeled on laws in Iceland, Canada, England and Ireland to require shops to keep tobacco products in cabinets, drawers, under the counter, behind a curtain or in other concealed spots until a customer asked for them. He said the displays "invite young people to experiment with tobacco."

But a similar measure had been rescinded in suburban Haverstraw, N.Y., after cigarette manufacturers sued. They said it violated their companies' free speech rights to communicate with consumers about their products' availability and prices.

The city Health Department said in a statement that the measure was taken off the table because "with the arrival of e-cigarettes, more time is needed to determine how best to address this problem."

E-cigarette makers say their products are healthier than tobacco, and a trade association leader bristled at the city's proposal to prevent people under 21 from buying them.

"Is 21 the right number? People can join the Army at 18," said Ray Story, founder of the Atlanta-based Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.

Newsstand clerk Ali Hassen, who sells cigarettes daily to a steady stream of customers from nearby office buildings, said he didn't know if the new age restrictions would do any good.

While he wouldn't stop vigilantly checking identification to verify customers' age, Hassen doubted the new rules would thwart determined smokers.

"If somebody wants to smoke, they're going to smoke," he said.

© Copyright 2015
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Amtrak to suspend some Crescent service in Jan., Feb.
Amtrak service will shut down in parts of the Southeast for several days in January and February for rail maintenance by Norfolk Southern Railway.
9:00AM ( 1 year ago )
Lung cancer scans urged for some smokers, not all
Certain current or former heavy smokers should start getting yearly scans for lung cancer to cut their risk of death from the nation's top cancer killer, government advisers said Monday - even as they stressed that the tests aren't for everyone.
7:26AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 1 year ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 1 year ago )
Victim critical following apartment fire
A 41-year-old woman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being rescued from an apartment fire in Forsyth County late Monday afternoon.
3:16PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 1 year ago )
NSA reportedly intercepts computer deliveries
A German magazine has lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency's hacker unit, revealing how American spies intercepted computer deliveries, exploited hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijacked Microsoft's bug report system to spy on their targets.
12:31PM ( 1 year ago )
Rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel
Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries.
12:26PM ( 1 year ago )
UN is next stop for Obama after success with Iran, pope; top issues are IS, Syria, Russia
NEW YORK (AP) — Fresh from successes on Iran and with the pope, President Barack Obama still carried heavy burdens into critical meetings this week at the U.N. General Assembly.They include the threat...
3:31PM ( 1 week ago )
Stunning Congress, House Speaker Boehner announces plans to resign; tea party declares victory
WASHINGTON (AP) — Plunging Congress into deeper turmoil, House Speaker John Boehner abruptly announced his resignation Friday, shutting down a tea party drive to depose the nation's highest-ranking Re...
6:14PM ( 1 week ago )
Tornado heavily damages 10 homes but causes no injuries on island in South Carolina
JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — A tornado quickly blew through a neighborhood on the South Carolina coast early Friday and blew out windows, knocked down trees and heavily damaged ten homes.The tornado touc...
5:08PM ( 1 week ago )
Caterpillar says it may cut more than 10,000 jobs by 2018, lowers 2015 revenue expectation
Caterpillar is planning another round of job cuts that could exceed 10,000 people through 2018, as the construction and mining equipment maker adjusts to downturns in key markets.That could amount to...
10:06AM ( 1 week ago )
Escaped tarantula grounds Atlanta-bound flight in Baltimore
An eight-legged creature that escaped in the cargo hold of a passenger flight from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International grounded the plane and sent passengers onto another flight.
By The Associated Press
9:06AM ( 1 week ago )