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Bodega Owners Fear ‘Hide The Cigs’ Legislation Would Hurt Business

Bodega Association spokesman Fernando Mateo (L) and Bodega Association President Ramon Murphy speak out about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's anti-smoking proposal on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 (credit: Juliet Papa/1010 WINS)

Bodega Association spokesman Fernando Mateo (L) and Bodega Association President Ramon Murphy speak out about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-smoking proposal on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 (credit: Juliet Papa/1010 WINS)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Owners of convenience stores and bodegas say they are concerned about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s newest proposal that would keep cigarettes out of sight in New York City stores.

The ban, which would be the only one of its kind currently in the U.S., is aimed at discouraging young people from smoking. Tobacco products would be required to be kept in cabinets, drawers, under the counter, behind a curtain or in any other concealed location.

But convenience store owners fear it could affect their business by potentially leaving customers uncertain whether the shop carries their favorite brand and making them wait while a proprietor digs out a pack.

Bodega Association spokesman Fernando Mateo said many stores already have limited cigarette displays and a ban on displays would only hurt business.

“If we keep reducing or restricting what we can sell, 14,000 bodegas in the city will close,” he said. “We wish that everyone could live a healthy life but that’s their choice not ours.”

When introducing the measure Monday, Bloomberg said current displays “suggest that smoking is a normal activity” and said they “invite young people to experiment with tobacco.”

“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 said.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association, other anti-smoking groups and several City Council members applauded Bloomberg’s announcement.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who largely controls what goes to a vote, said through her office that she “supports the goal of these bills” but noted they would get a full review.

Mateo said he wants Bloomberg to visit city bodegas to “see the limited space for the products we sell” and better understand what display restrictions would mean for their bottom line.

The proposal would still allow shops to display cigarette advertising and signs saying tobacco products were sold, raising the question of how effective it will be just to put the products under wraps.

Stores devoted primarily to the sale of tobacco products would be exempt from the display ban.

The anti-smoking proposal slated to be introduced to the City Council on Wednesday has two separate bills.

In addition to the tobacco product display restrictions, the proposal would also strengthen 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.

Bloomberg led the charge to ban smoking indoors and in public parks and beaches over the past decade.

He has also backed a number of other public health measures, including adding calorie counts to menus and a ban on super-sized sugary drinks. A judge blocked the drinks ban, but the city is appealing.

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(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.)