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Are you 21? New York City looks to raise minimum age to buy cigarettes

New York City proposed a change to its policies governing cigarette purchases that would ban the sale of a pack of smokes to customers under 21-years-old. Cigarette companies have not yet responded directly to the proposal, scheduled for a hearing May 2. 

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With support in the City Council and the backing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the measure has the political ingredients to pass. A hearing is set for May 2.

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Smoking has become less prevalent overall in New York City over the last decade but has plateaued at 8.5 percent among the city's public high school students since 2007. An estimated 20,000 of them smoke today.

It's already illegal for many of them to buy cigarettes, but raising the minimum age would also bar slightly older friends from buying smokes for them.

The age limit is already 21 in Needham, Mass., and health officials have agreed to the same change but not yet implemented it in another Boston suburb, Canton. A similar proposal is on hold in the Texas Legislature.

City officials cited statistical modeling, published in the journal Health Policy, that estimated that raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 nationally could cut the smoking rate by two-thirds among 14-to-17-year-olds and by half among 18-to-20-year-olds over 50 years. Texas budget officials projected a one-third reduction in tobacco product use by 18-to-20-year-olds.

The nation's largest cigarette maker, Altria Group Inc., had no immediate comment, spokesman David Sutton said. He has previously noted that the Richmond, Va.-based company, which produces the top-selling Marlboro brand, supported federal legislation that in 2009 gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco products, which includes various retail restrictions.

Representatives for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. didn't immediately respond to phone and email inquiries. Based in Winston-Salem, N.C., it makes Camel and other brands.

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