BY JOE MARVILLI
On March 18, in Queens Hospital Center’s atrium, Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced new legislation to keep the City’s smoking rate down by banning the display of tobacco products and cracking down on illegal cigarette smuggling.
According to a Dept. of Health survey, smoking among adults in New York City has dropped by 32 percent since 2002. Between 2001 and 2007, teen smokers have dropped from 18 percent to 8.5 percent, where the rate has remained. While Bloomberg applauded these numbers, he wants to make sure they continue to go down. To that end, two pieces of legislation were introduced to the City Council on March 20 at the request of the Mayor by Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo (D-Bronx), who is the chair of the Health Committee.
The first bill, titled the “Tobacco Product Display Restriction” would keep all tobacco products out of sight in retail stores, to lessen impulsive purchases. The products would have to be placed in a cabinet, underneath the counter or use some other variation to keep them out of view, except during a purchase or restocking. If passed, the legislation would make New York City the first in the nation to keep tobacco products out of sight. While the City would be the first location in America to do this, other countries such as Iceland, Canada, Norway, Ireland and England have already implemented product display restrictions.
The bill does not change any advertising rules or showing price information for sellers. It does not apply to stores that are devoted primarily to the sale of tobacco products, as those locations already do not allow those under 18 to enter their premises. The bill would be enforced by the DOH and the Dept. of Consumer Affairs.
“Such displays suggest that smoking is a normal activity and they invite young people to experiment with tobacco, Bloomberg said. “This is not a normal activity.”
The second legislation, titled the “Sensible Tobacco Enforcement” bill, is meant to address the widespread availability of discounted or smuggled cigarettes. It prohibits the sale of discounted tobacco products, creates a price floor for cigarettes packs and little cigars and imposes packaging requirements on cheap cigars. The Dept. of Finance would have the authority to seal premises where there are two violations for unlicensed activity within a two-year period or three other tobacco violations within a three-year period.
Other provisions it includes are 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 and creating a minimum price of $10.50 per pack for cigarettes and little cigars. In addition, it would require that cheap cigars and cigarillos be sold in packages of at least four and little cigars be sold in packages of at least 20. If the cigars cost more than $3 each though, they are exempt from the rule.
“The new law would also level the playing field for the vast majority of merchants who respect the law and now have to compete unfairly with those that don’t,” the Mayor said.
Several members of City agencies and elected officials were on hand to support the legislation.
“When teenagers go to a bodega to buy a carton of milk, they’re confronted with a display of cigarettes,” City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. “That exposure can be more influential in getting kids to start smoking than having their parents smoke.”
“In 46 percent [of inspections], we found that retailers were selling either untaxed or phony stamped cigarettes,” City Finance Commissioner David Frankel said. “It’s terribly unfair to retail establishments who follow the law.”
“We have to denormalize it,” Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said. “Hiding these cigarettes will help to do that. You’re going to be as dead as Julius Caesar if you pick up cigarettes.”
Despite the added restrictions, Bloomberg said he has no plans to ban tobacco products in the City.
Many anti-smoking groups praised the bills.
“I’m so happy that New York City is now taking that step,” Phil Konigsberg, advocate for smokefree multiple housing, said. “I know the tobacco industry is already having their lawyers set up to fight this. I’m ready for a battle.”
Reach Reporter Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.