NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Less than a week after his latest health crusade to block the sale of large sugary drinks was halted by a judge, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has again focused his attention on smoking.
Under a new proposal announced Monday by Bloomberg, New York City retailers would be required to keep tobacco products out of sight in an effort to further reduce the youth smoking rate.
The first bill — the Tobacco Product Display Restriction Bill — would make the city the first in the nation to keep tobacco products out of sight in retail stores except during a purchase by an adult consumer or during restocking.
Tobacco products would be required to be kept in cabinets, drawers, under the counter, behind a curtain or in any other concealed location.
“We know that out of sight doesn’t always mean out of mind, but in many cases it can. And we think this measure will help reduce impulse purchases. And if it does, it will literally save lives,” Bloomberg told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb on Monday. “This is a big thing, make no mistake. The primary purpose is to keep young people from getting hooked on a habit that is likely to ruin their health or even end their lives at an early age.”
Bloomberg said similar prohibitions on displays have been enacted in other countries, including Iceland, Canada, England and Ireland.
“Such displays suggest that smoking is a normal activity,” Bloomberg said. “And they invite young people to experiment with tobacco.”
Stores devoted primarily to the sale of tobacco products would be exempt from the display ban.
The mayor’s office said retail stores could still advertise tobacco products under the legislation.
“New York City has dramatically lowered our smoking rate, but even one new smoker is one too many , especially when it’s a young person,” Bloomberg said. “Young people are targets of marketing and the availability of cigarettes and this legislation will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking.”
Kids under the age of 18 who are exposed to cigarette displays are two and a half times more likely to try smoking than kids who have less exposure, according to a release from the mayor’s office.
The legislation, to be introduced in the City Council on Wednesday, is comprised of two separate bills.
The second, called the “Sensible Tobacco Enforcement” bill, strengthens enforcement of discounted and smuggled cigarettes. It would prohibit the sale of discounted tobacco products, impose packaging requirements on cheap cigars and create a price floor for cigarette packs and small cigars. The city would have the authority to seal premises where there are repeat violations.
The bill would also increase penalties for retailers who evade tobacco taxes or sell tobacco without a license.
According to city statistics, nearly half of the cigarette retailers inspected by the city over the past year and a half were found to be selling unstamped or untaxed products.
The Sensible Tobacco Enforcement bill includes the following provisions:
- Increasing penalties for retailers who evade tobacco taxes or sell tobacco without a license.
- Prohibiting retailers from redeeming coupons or honoring other price discounts for tobacco products.
- Creating a minimum price for cigarettes and little cigars, which are virtually identical to cigarettes, at $10.50 per pack.
- Requiring that cheap cigars and cigarillos be sold in packages of at least 4, and little cigars be sold in packages of at least 20. Cigars that cost more than $3 each are exempt from the packaging rule.
“We have made tremendous strides in combating smoking in New York City but this leading killer still threatens the health of our children,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “New York City’s comprehensive smoking prevention program has led to a decrease in the smoking rate in adults from 21.5 percent in 2002 to 14.8 percent in 2011. However, smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death in New Yorkers, killing thousands per year, and youth smoking rates have remained flat at 8.5 percent since 2007. These two bills are logical, important next steps to further protect our teens from tobacco.”
According to city statistics, about 7,000 people die from smoking-related illnesses every year.
Not everyone supports the proposed legislation.
The New York Association of Grocery Stores issued the following statement Monday:
“Earlier today New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg reminded residents that his tyrannical ‘public health’ initiative will continue to persist. Having been recently denied the authority to dictate dietary decisions for New York City soda consumers, Bloomberg has momentarily turned his attention to tobacco. With the introduction of his ‘Tobacco Product Display Restriction’ bill Bloomberg is hoping to not only change the rules here in New York City, but pioneer regulations that have never before existed in the United States.
“If passed, the Mayor’s legislation will prohibit the display of tobacco products in most retail shops throughout the New York City area. Arguing that the visible presence of cigarettes invites underage experimenting, Bloomberg is calling instead for such items to be concealed behind curtains or within cabinets. Given that persons under the age of 19 are not legally permitted to purchase tobacco products, the Mayor’s proposal seems to exist rather redundantly.”
Bradley Gerstman, Esq., and Counsel to NYAGS argues, “Actions of the New York City Health Department have already been overturned by the Courts for attempting to regulate tobacco within the Federal Trade Commission’s jurisdiction. Yet, the Mayor’s desire for a nanny state seems to continue dictating the direction of legislation, and thus the behavior of citizens.”
Bloomberg has backed a number of public health measures, including a crackdown on large sizes of sugary drinks and adding calorie counts to menus. A judge blocked the drinks ban but the city is appealing.
Bloomberg led the charge to ban smoking indoors and in public parks and beaches over the past decade.
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