Legislation raises minimum legal sales age of tobacco products from 18 to 21 and strengthens tobacco enforcement

Marking one year since Hurricane Sandy, the Council will pass legislation to ensure that the five boroughs will be better protected against future storms

New York, NY- Today, the City Council will vote on legislation to raise the minimum legal sales age of cigarettes, certain tobacco products and electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21. A second bill aims to cut tobacco consumption by limiting access to cheap and illegal tobacco products and by strengthening enforcement against illegal cigarette dealers and tax evaders.

The Council will mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy by voting on a package of legislation to better prepare the city for future storms by ensuring that New Yorkers’ homes and businesses are protected during severe weather.

Additionally, the Council will vote on a proposal to redevelop nearly 16 acres of city-owned waterfront property in downtown St. George and its surrounding neighborhoods on Staten Island.

Tobacco 21 (Intro 250-A) and Sensible Tobacco Enforcement (Intro 1021-A)

Currently, New York State has a minimum sales age of 18 for cigarettes, tobacco products and e-cigarettes. The Council’s legislation would make New York City the first major city in the country with an age 21 law.

Most people who are not smokers by 21 years of age do not start smoking later in their lives. In New York City, 80 percent of adults who become daily smokers start smoking before reaching the age of 21. While the City has succeeded in reducing the prevalence of tobacco use among youth from 17.6 percent in 2001 to 8.5 percent in 2007, youth smoking rates have plateaued since, and remain at 8.5 percent as of 2011.

Raising the legal sales age to 21 would reduce the opportunities for young people to buy cigarettes themselves or to get them indirectly from older youth and in turn, help prevent generations of New Yorkers from becoming smokers. By one estimate, raising the smoking age to 21 could reduce the smoking rate among 18-20 year olds by 55 percent and reduce the smoking rate among 14-17 year olds by two-thirds, in part because 90 percent of the people who were asked by minors to purchase cigarettes for them were between 18 and 21.

E-cigarettes have emerged as an alternative to cigarettes, and there is growing concern that e-cigarettes will cause a new generation of people to become addicted to nicotine. According to data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of middle and high school students in the United States who have used e-cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. Thus, exposure to nicotine during adolescence may lead to a lifetime of nicotine addiction.

Under the legislation, an e-cigarette would be defined as a battery-operated device that contains nicotine and delivers vapor for inhalation. The law would also require that an individual be 21 to buy e-cigarette refills, cartridges or any other component of e-cigarettes. Stores would be required to have signage clearly stating the minimum sales age requirements for cigarettes, tobacco products and e-cigarettes.

Penalties for violating the minimum sales age requirement include fines of up to $1,000 for a first offense, $2,000 for a second offense and retailer license revocation for repeat offenses within a period of three years. The Department of Finance (DOF) or the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) may also seal the premises of a store for up to 60 days for three violations in three years of certain provisions, including violations of the minimum sales age.

“This legislation will reduce smoking rates among New Yorkers – especially young New Yorkers – sparing them years of nicotine addiction and health problems,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “We can’t stand by to watch another generation suffer from the harmful effects of smoking – and that’s why we must act now. I thank my Council colleagues, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley and the numerous advocates who contributed to this legislation and who continue to make New York City a healthier place to live.”

“By raising the legal smoking age to 21, our city is sending a powerful signal to the tobacco industry and its allies that hooking our kids on nicotine will no longer be a viable business model. And by including electronic cigarettes in our bill, we will be the first major American city to act against the soaring use of this untested and addictive product among young people,” said Council Member James F. Gennaro. “This legislation – which I believe will be a model for the nation – will save untold hundreds of lives each year and reduce health care costs by countless millions of dollars. I thank Speaker Quinn, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Farley for ensuring young people are free from a lifetime struggle with tobacco and nicotine addiction.”

“I am proud of the bills my colleagues and I have sponsored, and thrilled that this legislation is being passed today. We remain committed in our fight to protect young New Yorkers from the risks associated with tobacco use. I have no doubt that this legislation will help to decrease the prevalence of nicotine addiction as well as tobacco-related illness in New York City,” said Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo.

A second bill the Council will vote on today would reduce the availability of cheap tobacco products which entice youth and make it more difficult for smokers to quit. Tobacco use remains a leading cause of preventable and premature death in New York City, killing nearly 7,000 New Yorkers every year. Additionally, smoking-related illnesses cost New Yorkers billions of dollars annually in health care costs and lost productivity. The main features of the bill include:

Reducing evasion of cigarette taxes by creating comprehensive new penalties for violations such as purchasing cigarettes from unauthorized sources and transporting untaxed products, as well as selling counterfeit tax stamps or hiding the contraband.
Increasing fines for illegal and untaxed sales of tobacco products. Also, in certain circumstances, authorizing enforcement agencies to “seal” the premises of dealers who are repeat offenders (e.g. for a certain number of violations of license, tax or age restrictions).
Banning discounts on sales involving cigarettes, so consumers can’t redeem coupons and dealers can’t offer other types of discounts.
Setting a price floor on packs of cigarettes and little cigars at $10.50.
Requiring inexpensive cigars to be sold in packages of no fewer than four, and requiring “little cigars” to be sold in packs of 20.
Ultimately, this bill would even the playing field for retailers who follow the law so they are not undercut by competitors who draw customers with cheap and illegal cigarettes and tobacco products. It would also prevent the City and State from losing billions of dollars in tax revenue by cracking down on illegal black-market dealers. Moreover, it would help prevent youth from accessing and becoming addicted to tobacco products, help adults quit, and save thousands of lives.

Sandy Legislation (Intro 983-A, Int. 990-A, Intro 1085-A, Intro 1089-A, Intro 1096-A, 1099-A)

Today, the Council will vote on six bills to minimize the level of damage inflicted by future emergencies.

The City’s current flood maps are largely based on data that is nearly 30-years-old, and new final flood maps are not expected to be in effect until 2015. A bill, sponsored by Council Members Ulrich and Oddo, would ensure that those building and rebuilding in flood-prone areas are using the best available flood maps from FEMA.

Until FEMA releases new final flood maps, owners of new or substantially improved buildings must use either FEMA’s preliminary flood maps or the City’s current flood maps – whichever is more restrictive – to determine whether they need to comply with flood construction requirements. Both of these maps will be replaced by new final flood maps when they are released by FEMA and adopted by the Department of Buildings.

Council Member James Oddo said, “We must continue to do all we can to ensure that we are better prepared for future storms. This includes ensuring that new buildings are constructed in such a way that vital infrastructure systems are located about the expected flood level.”

The Council will also vote on legislation to safeguard fire protection systems, fuel-oil piping and plumbing systems from flooding by requiring that they be located above expected flood levels for new or improved buildings in flood-prone areas. The bill, sponsored by Council Member Oddo, would also require that new or substantially improved hospitals in certain areas comply with the City’s flood construction requirements to better protect these critical facilities.

Another piece of legislation, sponsored by Council Member Arroyo, would require that new or substantially improved health care facilities place their patient care areas and patient sleeping areas above expected flood levels.

“Health care facilities have a responsibility to protect their patients and in the event of a natural disaster, patient safety can be significantly compromised. Given the weather patterns we’ve witnessed in recent years, ensuring that patients will be out of harm’s way should flooding occur is simply common sense,” said Council Member Arroyo.

The Council will also consider a bill sponsored by Council Member Chin. The legislation will require the City to help commercial and residential property owners figure out how to protect their properties from disasters and how to keep their tenants informed as emergencies unfold. The bill would also require that residential property owners put up temporary emergency information notices in building common areas.

A bill sponsored by Council Member Gonzalez would extend the permissible length for telecommunication cabling in flood-prone areas so that those cables are able to reach a connection point that is safely above expected flood levels. The legislation would also allow buildings in flood-prone areas to store more fuel-oil on the floor, provided that the storage tanks are adequately protected.

“Before Sandy, we all took our ability to communicate with one another for granted. How many problems were created and how many could have been avoided if Sandy victims had the simple ability to reach out to family, friends, co-workers and authorities? This vital legislation will help ensure we won’t lose that ability with the next weather emergency. At the same time, it will reduce the loss of and the contamination caused by leaking fuel tanks so they will be usable for operating backup power generators. During emergencies in particular, families and businesses must feel confident they can connect with the world in a warm and safe environment,” said Council Member Sara M. González.

Hurricane Sandy damaged nearly 90,000 buildings in New York City alone. Legislation sponsored by Council Member Richards will ensure buildings are protected against high winds and wind-driven rain penetration by requiring buildings that undergo certain alterations to meet wind protection requirements.

“This week, as we mark the one year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, it is critical that New York City builds with resiliency and sustainability as its top priority,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “Superstorm Sandy damaged approximately 88,700 structures in New York City. According to the National Weather Service, wind gusts were reported as high as 89 miles per hour when the storm hit the New York City metropolitan area. Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to implement measures like Int-1099, to help minimize the potential of incurring major damage to the city’s buildings and infrastructures.”

St. George Waterfront Redevelopment Project

The Council will also vote on the St. George Waterfront Redevelopment Project in Staten Island which consists of a series of land use actions involving the St. George special district. The project will result in the creation of the world’s tallest observation wheel at 625 feet, and will include retail and restaurant space, a 200-room hotel, two 4D theaters, a catering facility, an exhibition hall and parking facilities.

The project also includes nearly seven acres of a publicly accessible green roof with a playground and sustainability elements, such as wind turbines and a solar panel array area.

The St. George Waterfront project is poised to become a world class destination with more than $580 million in private investment. It will create over 1,150 construction jobs and 1,350 permanent jobs with over $101 million in return to the City.

“This vote is a tremendous victory for the residents of the North Shore, for Staten Island, and for New York City. This will be a transformative project and a boon to economic development for Staten Island. It is worth over $580 million dollars in private investment, and an additional $47 million in commitments from the City and the Developers,” said Council Member Debie Rose. “For years Staten Island’s businesses and cultural institutions have been asking our elected officials for a way to get the millions of visitors who ride the Staten Island Ferry out of the terminal and onto Staten Island. This project will meet that long awaited goal. Staten Island will no longer be the `Forgotten Borough’!”