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NYC raises tobacco-buying age to 21

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MIDTOWN (PIX11) – David, from Brooklyn, would not give us his last name. But he did tell us that as a 15-year-old he would routinely buy cigarettes from his neighborhood corner store.

It was a disturbingly familiar tale with a point: If an underage teenager is bold or brave enough they’ll find a way to get their hands on a cigarette.

The New York City Council made that quest more difficult Wednesday when its members voted to increase the minimum age to legally buy cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and other tobacco products from 18 to 21, and create new penalties for illegally buying tobacco on the black market.

Health officials and anti-smoking advocates argue that putting cigarettes out of the reach of young adults will ultimately save lives.

“Research shows that people are moving from casually trying cigarettes to becoming cemented smokers in those critical age years. And so when you’re around your peers and you’re starting to see this trend taking hold, it’s more likely to take hold at those ages,” said Michele Bonan of the American Cancer Society.

The convenience and retail industry is not at all happy about the vote, which it claims is nothing more than yet another shot at their bottom line.

“There’s no law that prohibits minors from possessing or using tobacco. All of the focus is on retail stores, like ours. We have to follow all the regulations, we have to verify the age of the customer, we have to collect the taxes, and as a result, we’re losing business left and right to the thriving black market that now controls half of the cigarette market in New York City,” said Jim Calvin of the New York Association of Convenience Stores.

Meantime, David, still puffing away during our interview – says he believes in today’s “Bloombergesque” New York City – 18, 19 and 20-year-olds may just have a harder time getting their tobacco fix over the counter.