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Mayor Bloomberg Announces New Legislation To Further Reduce Smoking Rate

March 18, 2013

City Would Be First in Nation to Keep Tobacco Products Out of Sight

Smoking Remains Leading Cause of Preventable Death, Killing 7000 Each Year

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs, Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley, Finance Commissioner David Frankel and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz today announced new legislation that builds on New York City’s success in reducing smoking rates over the last decade. The “Tobacco Product Display Restriction” bill would make New York City the first in the nation to keep tobacco products out of sight in retail stores, with the goal of further reducing the youth smoking rate. The second bill, “Sensible Tobacco Enforcement,” is comprised of policies that will combat illegal cigarette smuggling. Under the new legislation, sellers would be required to keep tobacco products out of sight, except during a purchase by an adult consumer or during restocking: tobacco products would be required to be kept in cabinets, drawers, under the counter, behind a curtain or in any other concealed location. The bills do not impact advertising for sellers. The bills will be introduced at the request of the Mayor by Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Chair of the Health Committee, on Wednesday. The Mayor made the announcement at Queens Hospital Center where he was joined by Council Member James Gennaro, Council Member Stephen Levin, President of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Matt Myers, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications for American Lung Association of the Northeast Michael Seilback, Senior Director of Government Relations New York City, New York State and Vermont American Heart Association Robin Vitale, Deputy Director NYC Coalition for Smoke Free City Deirdre Sully, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Regional Advocacy Director Michele Bonan and Executive Director of Queens Hospital Center Julius Wool. 

“New York City has dramatically lowered our smoking rate, but even one new smoker is one too many – especially when it’s a young person,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “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.”

“We know that smoking is dangerous, deadly, addictive and without a single benefit,” said Deputy Mayor Gibbs. “As public health leaders we owe it to adults and young people alike to do everything we can to prevent New Yorkers from starting to smoke, and helping those who want to quit.”

“We have made tremendous strides in combatting smoking in New York City but this leading killer still threatens the health of our children,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Farley. “New York City’s comprehensive smoking prevention program has led to a decrease in the smoking rate in adults from 21.5 percent in 2002 to 14.8 percent in 2011. However, smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death in New Yorkers, killing thousands per year, and youth smoking rates have remained flat at 8.5 percent since 2007. These two bills are logical, important next steps to further protect our teens from tobacco.”

“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 Finance Commissioner Frankel. “The penalties on the books simply are not enough to ensure that cheap tobacco does not addict our city’s youth, which is why we strongly encourage the Council to enact legislation that would increase the financial penalties and give the Department of Finance the authority to shutter premises of repeat violators.”

“New York City now has fewer cigarette retailers than ever before and, after more than 133,000 undercover DCA Youth Tobacco inspections since 2002, we’re happy to report compliance regarding illegal sales to minors has risen from 52 percent when the program began in 1998 to 91 percent,” said Consumer Affairs Commissioner Mintz. “But even with this progress our collective efforts must continue, and we commend the Council for joining with us to add these enforcement tools.”

“Mayor Bloomberg and his Administration have made tremendous gains in encouraging smokers to quit, would-be smokers to never start and leading the city towards a healthier, smoke free future,” said Councilman Gennaro. “These crucial pieces of legislation are the logical next steps in this quest. This legislation will curb tobacco displays that continue to target our children and increase penalties on tobacco vendors whose operations run afoul of existing law. Science and experience clearly tell us that the earlier kids start smoking, the more difficult it will be for them quit. Eliminating enticing tobacco displays and low-cost cigarettes from unscrupulous vendors will yield tremendous health dividends that will compound in the future. Our children deserve that future.”

“Thousands of New Yorkers die each year of tobacco-related causes,” said Council Member Levin. “If we can keep just one young person from smoking then that is a step in the right direction. I fully support these efforts that prevent smoking and promote good health.”

“As the prime sponsor of the law that bans smoking in parks and on beaches in New York City, I commend the Department of Health for its proposal to target illegal and discounted tobacco sales,” said Council Member Gale Brewer. “Through education, outreach and enforcement, New Yorkers have embraced healthier lifestyles, yet young people are still smoking at a rate that has not declined since 2007. We need to initiate policies that highlight good public health, particularly among youth. One way is to do away with industry-promoted discounts on cigarettes, and target illegal sales that evade taxes. This would create a fairer marketplace, and help honest retailers compete on a level playing field.”

“These proposals are about making sure that we strengthen existing laws to protect our youth from being preyed upon by tobacco companies,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm. “Smoking is still one of the leading causes of preventable death and we must be committed to reducing access to tobacco products especially for young New Yorkers. Implementing these policies will unequivocally lead to a healthier city for all.”

“For the past 10 years, New York City has led the nation and the world in fighting tobacco use, especially among children,” said President of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Matt Myers. “With the introduction of legislation to stop tobacco industry discounting and attractive displays of tobacco packages, New York is once again providing strong leadership by cracking down on tobacco industry practices that entice kids and discourage smokers from quitting.”

“Tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of heart disease and stroke. For this reason, the American Heart Association has prioritized clean indoor air policies, strong tobacco excise taxes and appropriately funded tobacco control programs for states across the nation,” said Associate Director of the Cardiac Care Unit at Lenox Hill Hospital/NSLIJ and spokesperson for the American Heart Association Dr. Tara Narula. “As New York City continues to be a pioneer in tobacco control efforts, we look forward to the potential benefits of this new legislation. Whether it’s establishing a minimum price for tobacco products or strengthening the tobacco tax enforcement, New York City continues to lead the charge in the battle against Big Tobacco.”

“The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network commends Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council for their strong commitment to saving lives through reducing tobacco use,” said New York City Advocacy Director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Michele Bonan. “Ensuring high prices and regulating the marketing of tobacco products are proven ways to encourage adult users to quit tobacco use and to keep kids from ever starting the deadly habit.” 

“The Lung Association commends Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Farley, Health Committee Chairwoman Arroyo and the City Council for introducing new comprehensive tobacco control legislation which will help further reduce smoking rates and prevent kids from starting this deadly addiction,”  said Vice President of Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association of the Northeast Michael Seilback. “The proposals to set minimum price standards, prevent the use of coupons and other discounts, increase enforcement and penalties for tax evasion and restrict the display of tobacco products will all work together to reduce the burden of tobacco on our City in a major way. Once implemented, these initiatives will solidify New York City's legacy as an innovative public health leader and help even more New Yorkers live longer, healthier lives.”

“We applaud the Mayor and New York City Council for taking this historic and bold step to protect our youth from aggressive tobacco marketing in stores,” said Executive Director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City Sheelah Feinberg. “New York City has always been a leader in tobacco control, and these proposed policies will reduce youth smoking, saving lives and potentially millions of dollars in health care costs.”

“Queens Hospital Center is active in helping patients stop smoking; both directly and through support of other health care providers,” said Executive Director of Queens Hospital Center Julius Wool. “Our smoking cessation program in 2011 and 2012 served over 3,000 patients directly with education, counseling and medication to help them quit smoking. Through our ‘Queens Quits’ program we assist approximately 50 physician practices and health centers in their efforts to help their patients. Smoking continues to be a critical public health issue and we applaud the Mayor's leadership on this important issue.”

The Tobacco Product Display Restriction bill prohibits the display of tobacco products to protect children from the marketing of cigarettes through their display at retail counters. The bill would require that tobacco products be stored out of public view, except during a purchase by an adult consumer or restocking and allow tobacco products to be kept in cabinets, drawers, under the counter, behind a curtain or in any other concealed location. Retail stores may advertise and communicate tobacco product and price information to consumers.

These displays are often found in stores at the point-of-sale, and studies show they increase the likelihood that youth will experiment with tobacco products and become addicted. While New York City would be the first in the nation to do this, prohibitions began to be implemented in Iceland in 2001 and Canada in 2005, and these countries have already seen substantial declines in youth smoking. Other countries, including Norway, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and England, implemented product display restrictions more recently.

In 2011, 28,000 NYC public high school students tried smoking for the first time and 19,000 NYC public high school students under the age of 18 smoked. Youth who are frequently exposed to tobacco product displays are 2.5 times more likely to initiate smoking than youth who have less exposure. Symptoms of tobacco dependence can commence soon after an adolescent first tries smoking.

A March 2013 Vital Signs report released by the Health Department underscores the influence that cigarette product displays have on youth smoking. The Vital Signs report details findings from the Retail Advertising Tobacco Survey, an observational survey of about 2,000 licensed tobacco retailers conducted in summer 2011. The report found that 80 percent of NYC tobacco retailers have the majority of the area behind the checkout counter devoted to tobacco display (86 percent in high risk neighborhoods vs. 79 percent other).

Product display restrictions not only protect youth from smoking but also protect quitters from making impulse buys. In a survey, about 59 percent of New York City residents, including 41 percent of smokers, favor keeping tobacco products out of sight.

The Sensible Tobacco Enforcement bill addresses the widespread availability of discounted and smuggled cigarettes. It strengthens enforcement and would help honest retailers compete. It also prohibits the sale of discounted tobacco products, creates a price floor for cigarette packs and little cigars, and imposes packaging requirements on cheap cigars. The Department of Finance will have authority to seal premises where there are repeat violations: two violations for unlicensed activity within a two-year period or three other tobacco violations within a three-year period.

The Sensible Tobacco Enforcement bill includes the following provisions:

  • 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.
  • Creating a minimum price for cigarettes and little cigars, which are virtually identical to cigarettes, at $10.50 per pack.
  • Requiring that cheap cigars and cigarillos be sold in packages of at least 4, and little cigars be sold in packages of at least 20. Cigars that cost more than $3 each are exempt from the packaging rule.

Giving the Department of Finance the authority to seal premises of tobacco sellers that have had repeated violations of the law. Illegal trafficking of cigarettes has a particularly strong impact on New York City, where cigarettes are the most expensive in the country due to federal, state and local taxes. Illegal tobacco sales are estimated to cost federal and state governments $5 billion annually and an estimated $250 to $600 million is lost annually in unpaid taxes from cigarette trafficking in New York City. This activity also hurts businesses that follow the law by allowing unfair, illegal competition.

Smokers looking to quit can receive help by calling 311 or 1-866-NY-QUITS, or visiting and searching “NYCQuits.” The Health Department’s Nicotine Patch and Gum Program runs through March 21.

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