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New York City Proposing Raising Age For Tobacco Purchases To 21

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- New York City's anti-smoking rules are about to get a whole lot tougher. A new bill would raise the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21. Businesses that sell tobacco products to kids could lose their licenses.

On Monday it was personal. Queens Councilman James Gennaro (D-24th) teared up as he joined Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley to sponsor a bill to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products in New York City, CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported.

"We lost her to lung cancer," Gennaro said. "This disease took my mother because she started smoking when she was 18 and it has taken many other people's mothers.

"We really, really have to do this."

Quinn Proposes Raising Smoking Age

"Why are we doing this? Well, let's look at the data: 80 percent of adult smokers in New York City started before age 21," Quinn added.

The council bill would go after the sellers of cigarettes and tobacco products. If they violate the sale-to-minors law they are expected to be fined:

* Up to $1,000 for each violation found in a single day.

* Up to $2,000 for the second violation.

* And they could also lose their license to sell tobacco products, period.

NYC Proposing Raising Age For Tobacco Purchases To 21

The speaker was asked if she would also seek to go after the underage smokers, themselves.

"I think that would be a bridge too far on this issue," Quinn said.

Young smokers had the following to say:

"I think that's actually kind of ridiculous. Whether to smoke or not should be your own decision. I think 18 is a good age, but 21 is too high," said William De Vries of Larchmont.

"I feel if people are restricted to do something they're probably going to want to do it more, like rebel," added Thomas Napolitano of Bensonhurst.

"Personally, I don't think it's such a bad idea," added Christian Vargas of Woodside, Queens.

The City Council will hold hearings on the bill sometime next month and members said they're pretty certain that Mayor Michael Bloomberg will sign it as soon as it gets to his desk.

Christine Quinn Dr. Thomas Farley
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley (L) propose raising the age for buying tobacco products - April 22, 2013 (credit: Jim Smith / WCBS 880)

New York City would become the first big city to enact the ban. Officials hope it will be copied across the country and across the world.

And in fact, the idea of raising the age for tobacco purchases was already catching on beyond New York City within hours after it was announced.

In Chicago, Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the City Council Health Committee, said the Windy City should also consider making 21 the minimum age, according to published reports. But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was hesitant when asked if he favored the plan, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report.

Under Mayor Bloomberg and the health commissioners he has appointed, including Farley, New York has rolled out a slate of anti-smoking initiatives.

Bloomberg, a billionaire who has given $600 million of his own money to anti-smoking efforts around the world, began taking on tobacco use in the city shortly after he became mayor in 2002.

Over his years in office, the city -- at times with the council's involvement -- helped impose the highest cigarette taxes in the country, barred smoking at parks and on beaches and conducted sometimes graphic advertising campaigns about the hazards of smoking.

Last month, the city marked the 10th anniversary of the Smoke-Free Air Act which banned smoking in bars, restaurants and other indoor public spaces.

Last month, the Bloomberg administration unveiled a proposal to keep cigarettes out of sight in stores until an adult customer asks for a pack, as well another bill that would decrease access to cheap and illegal cigarettes.

Bloomberg's administration and public health advocates praise the initiatives as bold moves to help people live better. Adult smoking rates in the city have fallen from 21.5 percent in 2002 to 14.8 percent in 2011, Farley has said.

But the measures also have drawn complaints, at least initially, that they are nannyish and bad for business.

Several of New York City's smoking regulations have survived court challenges. But a federal appeals court said last year that the city couldn't force tobacco retailers to display gruesome images of diseased lungs and decaying teeth.

Quinn, a leading Democratic candidate to succeed Bloomberg next year, has often been perceived as an ally of his.

Bloomberg also has pushed a number of other pioneering public-health measures, such as compelling chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus, banning artificial trans fats in restaurants, and attempting to limit the size of sugary drinks. A court struck down the big-beverage rule last month, but the city is appealing and Bloomberg has urged voluntary compliance in the meantime.

Do you agree with the proposal? Let us know below...

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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