If City Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley and City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn have their way, retailers in New York City will be banned from selling cigarettes to people under 21.
The officials on Monday announced a proposal to raise the age to legally buy cigarettes from 18 to 21 in New York City—the strictest limits of any major city in America. Under the proposal, sellers would be subject to fines and other penalties for selling cigarettes to minors, but people under 21 would not be prohibited from possessing or smoking cigarettes—buyers and their parents would not be violating the law.
“With this legislation, we’ll be targeting the age group at which the overwhelming majority of smokers start,” Ms. Quinn said at a City Hall news conference.
In defense of the legislation, Quinn and Farley point out that the transition from experimental smoking to regular smoking generally occurs around age 20, and that if cigarettes are not as easy to obtain at a young age, the chances of them becoming lifelong addicts would diminish.
Quinn pointed out that there was “clear data” that 80 percent of smokers started before age 21, adding, “We have an ability to intervene on that and make a difference.” Officials pointed to the results of a 2010 study conducted in England showing that after the legal age of sale for cigarettes was raised from 16 to 18 in 2007, smoking among 16- to 17-year-olds dropped by 30 percent.
But the legislation is eliciting strong opposition from those concerned that the rights of young people will be violated. At 18, they contend, New Yorkers are old enough to go to war, drive and vote, but this proposal precludes them from making the decision whether to purchase cigarettes.
“By 18, people are responsible enough to make their own decisions,” said Erik Malave, 23, a music production student at City College. “Forcing people to make themselves healthy tends not to work. When I turned 18, I bought cigarettes for all my friends who weren’t 18,” he said.
“What happened to freedom?” said Jessette Bautista, 21, who began smoking when she was 17 and pointed out that, unlike alcohol, cigarettes do not alter a person’s state of mind. “Cigarettes will not intoxicate you the same way as alcohol,” she said. “It will not put you under any influence.”
But the new legislation, which must be approved by the Council and signed by the mayor, is likely to be enacted since it is being promoted by Quinn and is supported by Mayor Bloomberg.
Officials believe the proposal would potentially reduce the smoking rate among 18- to 20-year-olds by 55 percent, and by two-thirds among 14- to 17-year-olds.
What’s your opinion? Please include your comments below or on our Long Island Living Discussion Forum.