Mayor Nutter talked about one of his Christmas wishes Thursday - reducing smoking rates in Philadelphia.
Just in time for the holiday weekend, Nutter signed into law legislation that hikes the fines for merchants who sell tobacco products to minors.
"We cannot allow our children to become the next generation of addicts," Nutter said. "Smoking is not cool at all."
The new law, approved by City Council several weeks ago, would raise the penalty for selling tobacco to minors from $100 to $250 per incident. City officials hope the stiffer fine will cut back on youth smoking, which ranks high in Philadelphia compared with the nation's other big cities.
"I know the ill effects of smoking," said Councilwoman Marian Tasco, who appeared at the bill-signing. "I know what it can do to you. I am a widow because my husband smoked."
In addition to the fines, the legislation authorizes the city to shut down a business for 48 hours if it sells tobacco to minors three times in two years. And the city will post on its website the names of businesses cited for illegal tobacco sales.
But the anti-smoking efforts don't stop with minors. According to the city, smoking afflicts all ages in Philadelphia, killing 2,500 people in the city each year and costing more than $800 million in lost productivity.
Nutter also spoke about a new publicity campaign, called the "Last Pack," which will provide counseling and other support to those trying to quit cigarettes. Promotional ads will be featured on 17 local radio stations. The effort is funded through a $10.4 million federal stimulus grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As part of the anti-smoking effort, last month the city launched a nicotine-patch giveaway that attracted 3,300 participants. And starting in January, the city will provide insurance coverage for smoking-cessation medications to roughly 7,000 employees.
Nutter asked that anyone who witnesses an illegal tobacco sale to a minor report it by calling 1-888-99-SMOKE or going to www.smokefreephilly.org.