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Ten years after NYC banned puffing in public, Gotham’s government has launched another attack on smoking. Yesterday the City Council passed a bill raising the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 (from 18). The bill, which will take effect six months after Mayor Bloomberg signs it, also sets the minimum price for a pack of cigarettes at $10.50.

The law’s goal is to prevent teenagers from developing dangerous habits that can last a lifetime, since recent research suggests 90 percent of smokers started before age 18. While smoking rates among New York City youth have fallen sharply throughout Bloomberg’s time in office (from 17.6 percent in 2001 to 8.5 percent in 2007), the number of teens who smoke has stopped declining in recent years.

New York State residents already have the most expensive smoking habit in the nation, so it seems reasonable to assume raising the cost of cigarettes will discourage smoking among teenagers. But research on the subject is inconclusive, and it’s unclear that pricier packs will have any impact on smoking rates among young New Yorkers.

Currently, New York is the first U.S. city to implement this type of legislation. Certain U.S. counties (including Nassau and Suffolk counties in New York) have already made it illegal to sell tobacco products to people under 19 or 21. But it will be interesting to see if other big cities follow New York’s lead, and what kinds of consequences the law has on the college crowd in particular.

Do you think making it illegal for people under 21 to buy tobacco products will have any real impact? Weigh in below and let us know what you think of the new legislation.

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