For City Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco, sponsoring an antismoking bill that Mayor Nutter signed into law Thursday was a personal quest.

In 1995, at 56, her husband, Thomas Earl Williams, died after years of inhaling Marlboro cigarettes in the basement of their house, one after another after another.

"I am a widow because my husband smoked," Tasco said at a City Hall news conference, where she also lauded city efforts to end Philadelphia's reign as the nation's largest city with the highest rate of adult smokers.

As part of that battle, Tasco's bill, sponsored on behalf of the Nutter administration, takes aim at stores that sell cigarettes to minors.

Any store caught doing so now faces a fine of $250 instead of $100, and a possible maximum penalty of $2,000 imposed by the courts if it fails to pay the original $250 fine.

In addition, city inspectors will have the authority to shut down a business for 48 hours if it is found to be selling to minors three times in two years.

Violators' names will also be posted on the Department of Public Health's website.

"We are a city overflowing with purveyors of tobacco," Nutter said.

He noted that in Philadelphia, 2,500 deaths each year are attributed to smoking - more than the number of deaths caused by diabetes, AIDS, homicides, and car accidents combined.

The mayor said he had never smoked. But he said his mother smoked, stopping before he was born, and then stopping again before the birth of his younger sister, and then ending the habit for good.

His father, though, was a different story. "My father smoked all his life," Nutter recalled, adding that it contributed to his death earlier this year.

The city also announced that beginning Jan. 1, it would provide insurance coverage to 7,000 employees for smoking-cessation medications.

Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.