Mayor Bloomberg on Monday announced new legislation banning the display of tobacco products in nearly all retailers, new minimum packaging requirements and stiffen cigarette tax-enforcement measures. Collectively, the bills are aimed at reducing the city’s youth smoking figures and curbing the sale of smuggled cigarettes.
“The laws would protect New Yorkers, especially younger New Yorkers,” Bloomberg said at a press conference in Jamaica’s Queens Hospital Center.
The administration has been keen to play up the health benefits of Bloomberg’s tenure in office as part of larger efforts to burnish his legacy. Recent studies have found the life expectancy of the average New Yorker has increased by two years since he took office, which the mayor repeatedly referenced during the press conference. He also said smoking among adults has dropped 31 percent since 2002.
Bloomberg said the push to take cigarettes out of sight came after the city experienced a leveling off of earlier reductions in youth smoking. The youth smoking rate has remained at a level 8.5 percent since 2007, according to city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.
“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,” Bloomberg said, adding “Such displays suggest that smoking is a normal activity. It is not a normal activity.”
The ban on displaying cigarettes, called the “Tobacco Product Display Restriction,” exempts specialty tobacco stores from the no-display requirement. It does not put curbs on cigarette advertising in stores. The law comes a week after a judge struck down the mayor’s attempt to ban the sale of sodas in containers over 16 ounces at certain food retailers.
Retailers did not meet the proposed law with open arms though, lambasting the regulation as another swipe at their bottom line.
“We need to make a living, and Bloomberg’s trying to stop us from doing that by saying how we can and can’t sell our tobacco,” said Michael Aziz of the Three Star Deli in Jamaica. “If he’s going to eliminate things, he should help people out first.”
Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) was among the mayor’s more vocal critics during that “soda ban” fight, and sees the tobacco product display restriction in much the same light.
“I don’t understand. The product is legal,” he said. “This is my worry about all of these things he’s doing. Slowly but steadily we’re eroding liberty.”
The city’s regulations on tobacco displays and sales have already been modified several times, Halloran added, including height and placement restrictions.
Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) welcomed the bills, saying all the city’s recent gains in eco-friendly legislation were rendered moot by anyone who smokes.
“If you pick up smoking, you won’t get that benefit,” he said, adding cigarettes could leave you “dead as Julius Caesar.”
Bloomberg has faced pillorying in the press and in City Hall for flagrant nanny state-ism, at the expense of taxpayers.
“People say, ‘You’re doing these things to collect money.’ No, we’re doing this to save lives,” Bloomberg said.
The second law targets smuggled and untaxed cigarettes by increasing the fines levied by the city’s Department of Finance. Should the bill pass, repeat offenders would face the prospect of being shuttered.
“Forty-six percent of more than 1,900 inspected cigarette retailers were found to be selling unstamped or untaxed product over the past 18 months by the Office of the Sheriff — a staggering number that puts law-abiding businesses at an incredible disadvantage,” said DOF Commissioner David Frankel.
The bill would also: prohibit retailers from redeeming manufacturer’s coupons; set a $10.50 price minimum for a pack of little cigars and require cheap cigars and cigarillos be sold in packages of at least four.
Anti-smoking activists hailed the legislation as further proof the city is headed in the right direction.
“This is a great first step,” said Yvette Buckner-Jackson, borough manager for Queens Smoke Free Partnership. “It’s bold and it’s exciting.”
Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) supports the aim of the bills, published reports said, but gave no indication of the bills’ chances of reaching the floor.