The legal age for buying tobacco, including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos will rise to 21, from 18, under a bill adopted by the City Council and which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has said he would sign. The new minimum age will take effect six months after signing.

The proposal provoked some protest among people who pointed out that New Yorkers under 21 can drive, vote and fight in wars, and should be considered mature enough to decide whether to buy cigarettes. But the Bloomberg administration s argument that raising the age to buy cigarettes would discourage people from becoming addicted in the first place won the day.

This is literally legislation that will save lives, Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, said shortly before the bill passed 35 to 10.

In pushing the bill, city officials said that the earlier people began smoking, the more likely they were to become addicted. And they pointed out that while the youth smoking rate in the city has declined by more than half since the beginning of the mayor s administration, to 8.5 percent in 2007 from 17.6 percent in 2001, it has recently stalled.

Besides raising the age to buy cigarettes, the Council also approved various other antismoking measures, such as increased penalties for retailers who evade tobacco taxes, a prohibition on discounts for tobacco products, and a minimum price of $10.50 a pack for cigarettes and little cigars.

The new law is a capstone to more than a decade of efforts by Mr. Bloomberg, like banning smoking in most public places, that have given the city some of the toughest antismoking policies in the world.

In one concession to the cigarette industry, the administration dropped a proposal that would force retailers to keep cigarettes out of sight. City officials said they were doing it because they had not resolved how to deal with the new phenomenon of electronic cigarettes, but others worried that if the tobacco industry lodged a First Amendment challenge to the so called display ban, it could have derailed the entire package.

The smoking age is 18 in most of the country, but some states have made it 19. Some counties have also adopted 19, including Nassau and Suffolk on Long Island. Needham, Mass., a suburb of Boston, raised the smoking age to 21 in 2005.

James Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, warned on Wednesday that thousands of retail jobs could be lost because the law would reduce traffic not just for tobacco, but also on incidental purchases like coffee or lottery tickets. He predicted that the law would do little to curb smoking, as it does not outlaw the possession of cigarettes by under age smokers, only their purchase.

Just before the vote, Nicole Spencer, 16, was in Union Square in Manhattan with a cigarette wedged between her fingers.

I don t think that s going to work, Nicole said when she heard about the plan to raise the age.

She said she began smoking when she was about 13, and had no trouble getting cigarettes. I buy them off people or I bum them off people, she said.

She said that probably half of her friends at her high school smoked.

Nicole said she thought 18 was a reasonable legal age, echoing Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, who said he voted no because it was not right for the city to ask young people to make life or death decisions as police officers and firefighters yet to have no ability to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Notes from the field: electronic cigarette use among middle and high school students – united states, 2011-2012

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Electronic cigarettes, or e cigarettes, are battery powered devices that provide doses of nicotine and other additives to the user in an aerosol. Depending on the brand, e cigarette cartridges typically contain nicotine, a component to produce the aerosol (e.g., propylene glycol or glycerol), and flavorings (e.g., fruit, mint, or chocolate) (1). Potentially harmful constituents also have been documented in some e cigarette cartridges, including irritants, genotoxins, and animal carcinogens (1). E cigarettes that are not marketed for therapeutic purposes are currently unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and in most states there are no restrictions on the sale of e cigarettes to minors. Use of e cigarettes has increased among U.S. adult current and former smokers in recent years (2) however, the extent of use among youths is uncertain.

Data from the 2011 and 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), a school based, pencil and paper questionnaire given to U.S. middle school (grades 6 8) and high school (grades 9 12) students, were used to estimate the prevalence of ever and current ( 1 day in the past 30 days) use of e cigarettes, ever and current ( 1 day in the past 30 days) use of conventional cigarettes, and use of both. NYTS consists of a cross sectional, nationally representative sample of students in grades 6 12 from all 50 states and the District of Columbia (3).

During 2011 2012, among all students in grades 6 12, ever e cigarette use increased from 3.3&#37 to 6.8&#37 (p<0.05) (Figure) current e cigarette use increased from 1.1&#37 to 2.1&#37 (p<0.05), and current use of both e cigarettes and conventional cigarettes increased from 0.8&#37 to 1.6&#37 (p<0.05). In 2012, among ever e cigarette users, 9.3&#37 reported never smoking conventional cigarettes among current e cigarette users, 76.3&#37 reported current conventional cigarette smoking.

Among middle school students, ever e cigarette use increased from 1.4&#37 to 2.7&#37 during 2011 2012 (p<0.05) (Figure) current e cigarette use increased from 0.6&#37 to 1.1&#37 (p<0.05), and current use of both e cigarettes and conventional cigarettes increased from 0.3&#37 to 0.7&#37 (p<0.05). In 2012, among middle school ever e cigarette users, 20.3&#37 reported never smoking conventional cigarettes among middle school current e cigarette users, 61.1&#37 reported current conventional cigarette smoking.

Among high school students, ever e cigarette use increased from 4.7&#37 to 10.0&#37 during 2011 2012 (p<0.05) (Figure) current e cigarette use increased from 1.5&#37 to 2.8&#37 (p<0.05), and current use of both e cigarettes and conventional cigarettes increased from 1.2&#37 to 2.2&#37 (p<0.05). In 2012, among high school ever e cigarette users, 7.2&#37 reported never smoking conventional cigarettes among high school current e cigarette users, 80.5&#37 reported current conventional cigarette smoking.

E cigarette experimentation and recent use doubled among U.S. middle and high school students during 2011 2012, resulting in an estimated 1.78 million students having ever used e cigarettes as of 2012. Moreover, in 2012, an estimated 160,000 students who reported ever using e cigarettes had never used conventional cigarettes. This is a serious concern because the overall impact of e cigarette use on public health remains uncertain. In youths, concerns include the potential negative impact of nicotine on adolescent brain development (4), as well as the risk for nicotine addiction and initiation of the use of conventional cigarettes or other tobacco products.

CDC and the Food and Drug Administration will continue to explore ways to increase surveillance and research on e cigarettes. Given the rapid increase in use and youths’ susceptibility to social and environmental influences to use tobacco, developing strategies to prevent marketing, sales, and use of e cigarettes among youths is critical.

Reported by

Catherine Corey, MSPH, Baoguang Wang, MD, Sarah E. Johnson, PhD, Benjamin Apelberg, PhD, Corinne Husten, MD, Center for Tobacco Products, Food and Drug Administration. Brian A. King, PhD, Tim A. McAfee, MD, Rebecca Bunnell, PhD, Ren A. Arrazola, MPH, Shanta R. Dube, PhD, Office on Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC. Corresponding contributor Brian A. King, baking , 770 488 5107.


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  2. King BA, Alam S, Promoff G, Arrazola R, Dube SR. Awareness and ever use of electronic cigarettes among U.S. adults, 2010 2011. Nicotine Tob Res 2013 15 1623 7.
  3. CDC. National Youth Tobacco Survey. Atlanta, GA US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC 2013. Available at
  4. Dwyer JB, McQuown SC, Leslie FM. The dynamic effects of nicotine on the developing brain. Pharmacol Ther 2009 122 125 39.