D.C. May Join New York in Raising Tobacco Age to 21

Nearly half of the city council is co-sponsoring new legislation.

A member of Occupy DC smokes a cigarette after a march to mark the first anniversary of the movement Oct. 1, 2012, at McPherson Square in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., may become the second large American city to ban young adults from buying cigarettes.

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Washington, D.C., is moving toward banning the sale of tobacco to 18-to-21-year-old adults, less than a week after the successful New York City Council vote to raise that city's tobacco age limit to 21.

D.C. Councilman Kenyan McDuffie will introduce legislation Tuesday to raise the age limit with at least four of his 12 council colleagues as co-sponsors, his office says.

"Raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 will decrease access to cigarettes, and, more importantly, may decrease the rate of smoking in young adults," the councilman said in a released statement. "By restricting tobacco sales to young people, we can prevent many of our youth from acquiring a terrible, deadly addiction."

McDuffie is introducing the bill now to harness momentum after the New York measure's victory on Oct. 30, according to one of his staffers.

[RELATED: Nationwide Fight Begins Over Raising Tobacco Age to 21]

The New York measure could also inspire emulation by other states and cities.

New Jersey is already weighing legislation to spike its tobacco age from 19 to 21. The state's 19-year age limit – currently tied for highest with Alabama, Alaska and Utah – was proposed and enacted by former Gov. Richard Codey, a Democrat, less than 10 years ago. Codey is pushing the latest proposed age increase.

"Someone is going to read this in Connecticut or Illinois or somewhere else and go, 'yeah that's a good idea,'" he told U.S. News last week, predicting a nationwide wave of new legislation. Codey wrote his bill after a phone call from New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

At least one anti-tobacco group, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, is cheerleading the legislative moves. But in New York some tobacco users say young adults will just turn to "buttleggers" who have for years operated a high-tax-dodging black market.

[READ: Drumbeat Intensified for Electronic Cigarette Regulations]

Unlike the New York City law, which will take effect in the first half of 2014, D.C.'s proposed legislation does not ban electronic cigarettes for young adults.

Co-sponsors on the bill are Yvette Alexander, Mary Cheh, Jack Evans and Jim Graham, according to McDuffie's office.

Advocates and opponents are likely to note that many D.C. residents already drive or take mass transit across the Potomac River to nearby Virginia to buy cheaper cigarettes. As of January, D.C. taxed each pack of cigarettes $2.50, compared to a rate of just $0.30 in Virginia, according to the Tax Foundation. If D.C. does ban young adults from buying tobacco, it may result in greater sales across the river.

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