Smokers under 21 will soon be barred from buying cigarettes in New York City as the City Council voted Wednesday to raise the minimum age for purchasing cigarettes and electronic-vapor cigarettes from 18 to 21.
By passing the bill, New York became the most populous place in the U.S. to raise the tobacco-buying age that high.
“This, I believe, is the next big thing for the city, and hopefully for the state and for the country,” the proposal’s sponsor, City Councilman James Gennaro, said before Wednesday’s vote.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to sign the measure. Officials previously shelved a plan Bloomberg unveiled with fanfare earlier this year: forcing stores to keep cigarettes out of public view until a customer asks for them.
The city’s current age limit is 18, a federal minimum that’s standard in many places. Some states and communities have raised the age to 19. At least two towns, in Massachusetts, have agreed to raise it to 21.
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. And supporters point to drinking-age laws as a precedent for setting the bar at 21.
Cigarette manufacturers have suggested young smokers may just turn to black-market merchants. And some smokers say it’s patronizing to tell people considered mature enough to vote and serve in the military that they’re not old enough to smoke.
The idea was modeled on laws in Iceland, Canada, England and Ireland. But a similar measure was rescinded in suburban Haverstraw, N.Y., after cigarette manufacturers said it violated their free speech rights to communicate with consumers about their products.
“Is 21 the right number? People can join the Army at 18,” said Ray Story, an e-cigarette Association.