Mayor Bloomberg wants cigarettes kept out of sight

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a mayoral candidate forum. (Jan. 18, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

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After being dealt a setback in his bid to ban big sodas, the mayor is going after an old foe: cigarettes.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is introducing legislation Wednesday that would bar stores from displaying cigarettes on their shelves, particularly to keep them out of sight of youngsters, and that would penalize store owners who violate city and state tobacco tax laws.

"We know 'out of sight' doesn't always mean 'out of mind,' but in many cases it can," he said.

The Tobacco Product Display Restriction bill would force store owners to keep cigarettes out of view and place them in cabinets, drawers or behind a curtain. Stores that only sell cigarettes and cigars would be exempt, and businesses could have signage that tells consumers they sell cigarettes.

If passed by the City Council, New York would be the first city in the nation to hide packs from customers. Canada has a similar law in effect.

Bloomberg and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, who announced the legislation Monday, said even though smoking among public high school students has decreased by 10 percent since 2001, there were 19,000 under 18 who smoked in 2011.

Keeping packs off store shelves would cut down that figure more, according to the mayor, who has banned smoking in parks, beaches and restaurants during his 11 years in office.

Store owners weren't pleased with the mayor's new initiative.

Emon Hossain, a manager of the Rainbow Convenience Store in midtown, said the mayor needs to trust store owners to focus on other ways to stop teens from smoking. "We ask them for ID and don't sell to anyone under 18," he said.

The Sensible Tobacco Enforcement bill would also create tougher penalties for stores that violate city and state tobacco tax laws and those who sell packs for less than $10.50 after taxes. The bill would also prohibit retailers from accepting coupons or discounts on cigarettes and cigars.

"We think it will be effective because high prices tend to discourage young people from smoking," Bloomberg said.

Some young smokers said for them, money is not an issue.

"I wake up in the morning cranky, and think, 'Damn! I need a cigarette!' " said Ching Cash, 20, a student from the Upper West Side.

Although the bills have support from many council members, it's unclear if it will be passed.

"To the extent that this proposed law would ban the display of products to adult tobacco consumers, we believe it goes too far," a spokesman for the company said.

Audrey Silk, founder of smokers' rights group NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (CLASH), said Bloomberg's proposals hurt consumer rights.

"I'm sorry, tobacco is legal and it's staying. To use censorship of this form is not free will in this country," she said.Silk noted that like the mayor's failed plan to ban large, sugary sodas, the smoking measures are targeting one unhealthy vice.

"Kids don't go into a store and look at a beer and say, 'Hey, let's get a beer.' Just enforce the law and don't sell it to them," she said.

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