More than 40 people showed up for the City Council's Health Committee hearing on bills that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco in the Big Apple to 21 and prevent the open display of cigarettes in stores.

City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said despite the city's efforts to decrease the number of smokers, the number of public high school students younger than 18 smoking has remained unchanged since 2007.

"It is difficult to imagine any other scenario where we would stand by as 28,000 of our youth experiment each year with a substance that could eventually kill one-third of them," he said.

The age-change legislation, which like all of the smoking bills has the backing of the mayor, would make New York the first major city to have a minimum age of 21. Farley said it could reduce smoking among teens by 55 percent.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg requested that the City Council propose the two other bills that would force convenience stores to get tobacco products off visible shelves and create a minimum price for cigarettes.

Robert Bookman, an attorney for the New York City Newsstand Operators Association, criticized all of the measures, contending that they would hurt small businesses and create a black market.

"What's next? No display of cookies and pretzels? Twenty-one to buy potato chips?" he said.

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Marie Wilkins, a former smoker who has had related health issues, applauded the city for taking action against underage smoking.

"A section [in stores] that hides cigarettes is a good idea to me. Out of sight, out of mind," said Wilkins, of the Bronx, who said she started smoking at 17.