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Kenney backs plan to cut sales of tobacco to kids

Mayor Kenney on Wednesday endorsed new city health regulations aimed at curbing the number of tobacco retailers near schools and in low-income neighborhoods.

Mayor Kenney on Wednesday endorsed new city health regulations aimed at curbing the number of tobacco retailers near schools and in low-income neighborhoods.

The announcement during a City Hall news conference came days before a public hearing Monday that will allow cigarette sellers and others to sound off on the new rules, most of which are scheduled to take effect early in 2017.

"Let's go forward and make Philadelphia's kids the first tobacco-free generation," said Kenney, who noted that 23 percent of adult Philadelphians smoke, compared with 17 percent of other Americans.

The new regulations were approved by the city Board of Health on Sept. 8, subject to revision after public comment.

The rules will limit new tobacco-seller permits to one per 1,000 residents within a given city planning zone. New permits will not be issued for businesses within 500 feet of schools; permit fees will be raised from $50 to $300; and retailers, which include restaurants, that get three violations in two years for selling to underage buyers will lose their permit for a year.

During 2015 compliance checks, 23 percent of tobacco retailers sold to underage buyers, according to city health officials.

At Wednesday's news conference, there was a table full of tobacco products bought by undercover teenage buyers paid by the city to identify businesses that violate the law.

"We cannot stand by while Big Tobacco picks off our children like they are in a target shoot," said Imam Mikal Shabazz of the West Oak Lane mosque Masjidullah.

Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, said children who live in low-income neighborhoods such as parts of North Philadelphia and Kensington are exposed to many more tobacco sellers than children in higher-income areas.

In sections of North Philadelphia, for example, there are three tobacco sellers for every 1,000 residents, compared with fewer than one per 1,000 residents in the Northeast.

Speaking to their fellow teenagers, activists Brandon Melendez, 18, and Jada Rassulallah, 15, of the Advocacy Institute, did an anti-tobacco public-service rap. The group, which is a project of the nonprofit Health Promotion Council, has an ongoing social-media campaign against youth smoking - #Philly1st.

Kenney, who said he quit smoking 26 years ago after his then-toddler son imitated him by holding a crayon like a cigarette, said the intent of the rules aren't to close shops. "We want to just limit access" to tobacco products and advertising, he said.

City Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley said businesses that lose their tobacco-seller permits will have to comply with new density limits when they reapply. If a suspended permit holder's area is over the limit, that merchant will not be able to get a new permit for that shop.

City Council passed a supporting resolution Sept. 22.

The hearing will be at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Municipal Services Building, 1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd., 14th floor, Room 1450.