One week after a court ruling blocked his signature sugary drink regulations, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday proposed new legislation that would make it illegal for stores to publicly display cigarettes.
Proclaiming that "even one new smoker is one too many," Bloomberg said the legislation would curtail youth usage and ultimately drive down the smoking rate for the city as a whole. Despite a drop in the smoking rate over the past decade, cigarettes remain a leading preventable cause of death, killing 7,000 New Yorkers per year, the city said.
"Young people are targets of marketing and the availability of cigarettes and this legislation will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking," Bloomberg said in a statement.
New York's smoking rate dropped from 21.5 percent in 2002 to 14.8 percent in 2011, a decrease the city attributed to its anti-smoking initiatives.
One proposed law would require cigarettes to be kept out of sight except during sales, forcing stores to stock them under counters, in drawers, or behind screens. If the proposal became law, the city said it would become the first in America to enact such a ban. A second law would create stiffer penalties for illegal cigarette sales, and crack down on stores that evade cigarette taxes.
The proposals will go the City Council for approval — a step Bloomberg skipped with his controversial soda restrictions. That law was implemented by the city's health board, a move that made those regulations invalid, according to the judge who last week prevented them from taking effect.
Convenience stores and their advocates vocally opposed the soft-drink regulations since they stood to lose sales. They may line up against the cigarette laws as well for the same reason.
It's the latest initiative in the mayor's long-running effort to curb smoking, and the latest in his broader public health campaign.
Back in 2002, Bloomberg, who has cast himself as a leading example of how governments can improve public health, successfully pushed through a ban on smoking in restaurants. More recently, he outlawed smoking in most public places. On the food front, he banned trans fats in restaurants, and forced chains to list the calorie content of their offerings.
No proposal was as controversial as his attempted ban on the sale of sugary drinks over 16 ounces, which was met with a fierce backlash from convenience stores, and was widely mocked as an absurd example of nanny statism. It even spawned an "Anti-Bloomberg" bill in Mississippi that would prohibit municipalities there from pursuing similar legislation. A judge last week agreed with Bloomberg's opponents, calling the law "arbitrary and capricious" and halting its implementation. The city has appealed that ruling.