Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed legislation Tuesday raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, a policy city officials hope will reduce the number of young New Yorkers smoking cigarettes.
A companion bill, also signed Tuesday, is aimed at reducing the availability of cheap tobacco products and establishes stricter penalties for violations and fines. The bill also sets a price floor on packs of cigarettes and small cigars at $10.50.
The laws take effect mid-May, when Bloomberg will have left office.
"People always try to put things like selling cigarettes in the context of jobs and whether or not it helps or hurts stores," Bloomberg said. "I think that's so outrageously misplaced. This is an issue of whether we're going to kill people."
He said those making an economic argument against the bill "really ought to look in a mirror and be ashamed."
Critics have also said younger New Yorkers will find other ways of obtaining tobacco products and that the bill infringes on choice.
But Health Commissioner Thomas Farley disagreed with that notion.
"It will protect our teenagers from getting addicted before they realize it," Farley said.
Bloomberg himself argued in 2006 that raises taxes created the best incentive for young people to stop smoking.
But, in a reversal of opinion, Bloomberg said Tuesday that raising the age, among other laws, was akin to "informing people," a policy he said has gotten results throughout his administration.
"Informing people of things that are bad for their health —life expectancy is roughly three years greater than it was 12 years ago," he said.
In 2002, Bloomberg convinced the City Council to pass a law banning smoking in city restaurants and bars. The ban was extended to parks, beaches, boardwalks and pedestrian plazas two years ago.
Queens Councilman James Gennaro, a sponsor of the bills, said Bloomberg has put real action behind the Jewish expression l'chaim, meaning"to life."
"I think this will be his great legacy," Gennaro said.
Bayside, Queens, resident and anti-smoking activist Phil Konigsberg enthusiastically agreed.
"I'm able to breathe a lot easier where I live," Konigsberg told Bloomberg before the bills were signed. "My whole life has been affected by you in such a positive way."
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