The legal age for buying tobacco, including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos will rise to 21, from 18, under a bill adopted by the City Council and which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has said he would sign. The new minimum age will take effect six months after signing.

The proposal provoked some protest among people who pointed out that New Yorkers under 21 can drive, vote and fight in wars, and should be considered mature enough to decide whether to buy cigarettes. But the Bloomberg administration s argument that raising the age to buy cigarettes would discourage people from becoming addicted in the first place won the day.

This is literally legislation that will save lives, Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, said shortly before the bill passed 35 to 10.

In pushing the bill, city officials said that the earlier people began smoking, the more likely they were to become addicted. And they pointed out that while the youth smoking rate in the city has declined by more than half since the beginning of the mayor s administration, to 8.5 percent in 2007 from 17.6 percent in 2001, it has recently stalled.

Besides raising the age to buy cigarettes, the Council also approved various other antismoking measures, 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.

The new law is a capstone to more than a decade of efforts by Mr. Bloomberg, like banning smoking in most public places, that have given the city some of the toughest antismoking policies in the world.

In one concession to the cigarette industry, the administration dropped a proposal that would force retailers to keep cigarettes out of sight. City officials said they were doing it because they had not resolved how to deal with the new phenomenon of electronic cigarettes, but others worried that if the tobacco industry lodged a First Amendment challenge to the so called display ban, it could have derailed the entire package.

The smoking age is 18 in most of the country, but some states have made it 19. Some counties have also adopted 19, including Nassau and Suffolk on Long Island. Needham, Mass., a suburb of Boston, raised the smoking age to 21 in 2005.

James Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, warned on Wednesday that thousands of retail jobs could be lost because the law would reduce traffic not just for tobacco, but also on incidental purchases like coffee or lottery tickets. He predicted that the law would do little to curb smoking, as it does not outlaw the possession of cigarettes by under age smokers, only their purchase.

Just before the vote, Nicole Spencer, 16, was in Union Square in Manhattan with a cigarette wedged between her fingers.

I don t think that s going to work, Nicole said when she heard about the plan to raise the age.

She said she began smoking when she was about 13, and had no trouble getting cigarettes. I buy them off people or I bum them off people, she said.

She said that probably half of her friends at her high school smoked.

Nicole said she thought 18 was a reasonable legal age, echoing Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, who said he voted no because it was not right for the city to ask young people to make life or death decisions as police officers and firefighters yet to have no ability to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Eu regulations on e-cigarettes and tobacco

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As lead MEP negotiator, I am writing to clarify the outline EU agreement on e cigarettes (Deal could lead to EU wide ban on refillable e cigarettes, 18 December). The agreement, backed yesterday by 27 of the EU’s 28 governments, plus the majority of MEP negotiators, does not mean that refillable e cigarettes can simply be withdrawn from the market if three governments so decide. The law does contain a safeguard clause which says that if three governments withdraw a product from the market for safety reasons (which have to be demonstrated), then the European commission can look at proposing an EU wide ban, but any action would again need to be signed off by all EU governments and MEPs. The draft law also rejects initial European commission proposals that all e cigarettes need a medicines licence instead they will be treated like tobacco products. The proposals on e cigarettes are only a small part of a much wider law which will mean big changes in tobacco regulation, paving the way for standardised or “plain” packaging in Britain. It will mean 65% of cigarette packs will be covered by graphic health warnings and the kind of gimmick cigarettes flavoured and lipstick packs designed to attract young smokers will be taken off the market. British Conservative MEPs are criticising the agreement, but these are the same MEPs who have tried all along to block progress. The law has the backing of major UK healthcare organisations and doctors, and when the vote comes in February for a final signoff in the European parliament, Labour MEPs will be giving it strong backing.
Linda McAvan MEP (Labour)
Rapporteur, EU tobacco products directive, European parliament