Smokers younger than 21 in New York will soon be barred from buying cigarettes after the city council voted overwhelming to raise the tobacco-purchasing age to higher than all but a few other places in the United States.
City lawmakers on Wednesday approved the bill - which raises from 18 to 21 the buying age for cigarettes, certain tobacco products and even electronic-vapour smokes - and another that sets a minimum US$10.50-a-pack price for tobacco cigarettes and steps up enforcement on illegal tobacco sales.
"This will literally save many, many lives," said an emotional city councilman James Gennaro, the bill's sponsor, whose mother and father died from tobacco-related illnesses.
"I've lived with it, I've seen it ... but I feel good today."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a strong supporter of the tough smoking restrictions, has 30 days to sign the bills into law. The minimum-age bill will take effect 180 days after enactment.
"We know that tobacco dependence can begin very soon after a young person first tries smoking so it's critical that we stop young people from smoking before they ever start," Bloomberg said in a statement.
With Wednesday's vote, New York is by far the biggest city to bar cigarette sales to 19- and 20-year-olds. Similar legislation is expected to come to a vote in Hawaii in December. The tobacco-buying age is 21 in Needham, Massachusetts, and is poised to rise to 21 in January in nearby Canton, Massachusetts. The state of New Jersey is also considering a similar proposal.
Lawmakers who pushed for the change cite statistics that show youth smoking rates have levelled at 8.5 per cent since 2007.
The city's current age limit is 18, a federal minimum that's standard in many places. Smoking in city parks, beaches and restaurants is already prohibited.
Cigarette manufacturers have suggested young adult smokers may turn to black-market merchants. And some smokers say it's patronising to tell people considered mature enough to vote and serve in the military that they're too young to smoke.