The anti-smoking mayor of New York now has a law to raise the minimum age required to buy cigarettes in the city to the highest in the country: 21. The minimum age is currently 18.
After City Council voted 35 to 10 in favour of the law, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has 30 days in which to make it official. It would come into force six months after that.
Small grocery store businesses have protested that the move will harm them, reducing their turnover and fuelling black market sales.
In addition to tougher penalties for retailers who evade taxes, the law includes a minimum price for a pack, $10.50. The price is another attempt to put cigarettes beyond the reach of young people, trying to prevent them from taking up or continuing smoking.
The health department says more than 80 percent of the city’s adult smokers start before they are 21.
Raising the minimum sales age is projected to reduce smoking among 14 to 17 year olds by two-thirds. The estimated reduction among 18 to 20 year olds would be just over half.
New York banned smoking in bars and restaurants in 2002, and in 2011 at outdoor venues such as public parks and beaches.
Although this is the first major American city to have a tobacco sales age of 21, a suburb of Boston legislated for it in 2005: Needham, Massachusetts.
New York officials said that between 2006 and 2012, smoking among high school students in Needham fell by more than half.