Teenagers who want to buy a pack of smokes in the Big Apple will
soon have to wait until they're old enough to drink.
New York City is moving to snuff out youth smoking by making it illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under 21 - up from the current age of 18.
Keeping up with Mayor Bloomberg's anti-tobacco crusade, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn yesterday announced a bill designed to make it harder for teens to take up the deadly habit.
"The more difficult it is for high-schoolers to gain access to tobacco products, the less likely they are to start smoking, the more likely they are to live longer," Quinn said.
New York's minimum age would be the highest of any major city in the nation. Bloomberg, who has championed anti-smoking efforts since taking office, supports the move, which would take effect in a year if the bill passes, as expected.
Quinn, who is running for mayor, said that 80 percent of the city's adult smokers picked up the habit before turning 21, that most people who don't smoke regularly by 21 are unlikely to start and that, according to a Department of Health study, about 20,000 students in the city's public high schools smoke.
New York would join only Canton and Needham, Mass., in barring cigarette sales to anyone under 21. The federal minimum age is 18. Four states, including New Jersey, have raised theirs to 19.
The proposal already has city shop owners fuming.
"This will be more of a hassle for business owners. We'll have to deal with [people under 21] trying to buy cigarettes illegally now," said Danny Oh, 26, whose family owns Queens' Amboy Deli, just a mile from the Nassau border.
He estimated that a quarter of his sales income comes from smokers 18 to 21 years old.
"I don't think raising the age will do anything," Oh said. "It's just a waste of time. Younger people will find a way to get cigarettes regardless. They can just go down the road [to Nassau County]."
Imran Lakehni, manager of Greenwich Village's Tobacco Store, said: "I'd say we would lose 10 to 15 percent of sales. And . . . we already don't make that much because of taxes."
Robert Bookman, attorney for the NYC Newsstand Operators Association, wonders whether the city has the authority to dictate what legal adults, over 18, can buy.
The 21-year-old drinking age "has generally been recognized as a humongous failure in stopping 19-to-21-year-olds from drinking," he said. "This gives them another reason to use their fake IDs."
Smokers, too, were skeptical.
"It's just gonna open up more black-market sales," said Joseph Sydney, 29. "It's not gonna stop people from smoking. It's gonna cause the city to lose money."
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