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Major Bloomberg Seeks Cigarette Display Ban in Line with Global Standards

Just days after a judge rejected Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to ban sales of big soft drinks in New York City, he’s now proposing to ban public display of cigarettes for sale.

If New York Mayor Bloomberg has his way, it could be even harder to find a pack of cigarettes in New York City than it is to find an available cab.

Bloomberg proposed legislation on Monday that would ban all stores from publicly displaying tobacco products. This, from the same mayor whose proposed ban on large, sugary drinks was rejected last week by a judge.

Under the proposal, cigarettes and other tobacco products would have to be kept out of public view — under counters or in drawers or even, yes, behind curtains. Some grocers and drugstore chains currently keep cigarettes out of sight, but that’s typically to avoid theft.

“Even one new smoker is one too many,” Bloomberg said at a media briefing on Monday.

The unprecedented move comes at a time when many consumers are increasingly receptive to better-for-you health proposals but increasingly skeptical of government actions to slap limits on personal habits. Bloomberg has a long history of supporting public health initiatives, and he’s been a long-time critic of tobacco makers.

Even staunch anti-tobacco activists were taken by surprise — though, happily so — by the mayor’s latest move.

“I am not aware of a city that has a similar law,” says Chris Bostic, deputy director of policy at Action on Smoking & Health, a non-profit public health group. “But New York City is often on the cutting edge, and we need to think creatively to overcome the tragedy of death and disease caused by tobacco.”

Bloomberg says other countries, including England, Canada, Iceland and Ireland, have had similar prohibitions on displays.

“Young people are the targets of marketing,” Bloomberg says. “This legislation will help prevent another generation from ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking.”

Smoking kills 7,000 New Yorkers every year, Bloomberg estimates. Nearly 450,000 people in the U.S. alone die annually from the effects of tobacco, Bostic says. By the end of the century, the effects of tobacco could kill 1 billion people worldwide, the World Health Organization has estimated.

The nation’s largest tobacco company, Altria Group, parent to Philip Morris USA, which makes Marlboro, is firmly against the proposal.

“To the extent that this proposed law would ban the display of products to adult tobacco consumers, we believe it goes too far,” spokesman David Sutton says

But Bostic, the activist, remains hopeful that it passes.

There is strong evidence that when tobacco is out of the sight of children, it is also out of mind, he says. “If they don’t see cigarettes, they’re much less likely to take up the habit.”

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