New NYC Law: Must Be 21 to Buy Tobacco

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on October 31, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In New York City, the new legal age for buying tobacco products will soon be 21.

NYC's City Council adopted the bill Wednesday. It will take effect six months after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg signs it into law.

The tobacco industry and retailers that sell tobacco products -- including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, cigars, and cigarillos -- lost this fight. But they won one significant concession.

From 18 to 21

Though New York City residents under 21 can drive, vote and fight in wars, the Bloomberg administration successfully argued that raising the age to buy cigarettes will help prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place.

To support its argument, city officials cited studies that showed the earlier people begin smoking, the more likely they are to become addicted, reports The New York Times.

However, the administration made one major concession to the cigarette industry. It dropped a proposal that would have forced retailers to keep cigarettes out of sight.

The strategic move was made because city officials weren't sure how to deal with the new phenomenon of electronic cigarettes. There was also concerns that the display ban would meet a similar fate to a federal cigarette warning law and spark a First Amendment challenge by the tobacco industry, which could have jeopardized the entire bill.

Additional Restrictions

Besides raising the age to buy cigarettes, NYC lawmakers also approved a number of other antismoking provisions, such as "increased penalties for retailers who evade tobacco taxes, a prohibition on discounts for tobacco products, and a minimum price of $10.50 a pack for cigarettes and little cigars," reports the Times.

Over the last 10 years, the Bloomberg administration has taken several aggressive steps in the fight against smoking, like barring smoking in most public places. The Big Apple now has some of the toughest antismoking policies in the world, much to the dismay of smokers.

Still, New York City isn't the first jurisdiction to raise the legal age for tobacco purchases. According to the Times, some states and counties have raised the legal age to 19, while at least one city in Massachusetts has raised it to 21.

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