NYC Officials Try To Raise Smoking Age To 21
April 23, 2013

NYC Officials Try To Raise Smoking Age To 21

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Undeterred by his latest loss on a city-wide soda ban, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is forging ahead with his newest health initiative — raising the smoking age from 18 to 21. Bloomberg issued this proposal yesterday as a part of his decade-long campaign against tobacco, which included higher taxes on cigarettes and banning smoking in city parks. Most recently, he proposed a law which would require all vendors who sell cigarettes to keep them out of site unless a customer asks for them.

Bloomberg has often been a leader in such heavy-handed health initiatives, sparking a nationwide debate with his soda ban and encouraging other cities to consider similar legislation. One state even signed a law prohibiting any government from banning their sodas. On the flipside, a handful of Chicago city officials have suggested adopting the age increase on tobacco in the Windy City as well.

“With this legislation, we´ll be targeting the age group at which the overwhelming majority of smokers start,” said Christine Quinn, New York City´s council speaker as she announced the legislation in a news conference.

"That will literally save lives. The more difficult it is for (young people) to gain access to tobacco products, the less likely they are to start smoking."

Quinn says they did not choose the age of 21 arbitrarily; according to her facts, some 80 percent of smokers began lighting up before they turned 21 years old. New York isn´t alone in wanting to boost the legal smoking age either. Young adults must be 21 years old before they can buy a pack of smokes in Needham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Other states like Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah have successfully raised the smoking age to 19. And on the national level, it remains a federal crime to sell tobacco to anyone under the age of 18.

Bumping up the legal smoking age up to 21 could prove politically tricky, however. After all, at 18 years old teenagers can legally drive, get married, serve in the military and vote. This puts the 2-and-up supporters in the position of arguing that 18-20 year olds have the right to choose their elected officials but cannot choose to smoke. Though this bill comes from Mayor Bloomberg´s office, the New York Times notes that he was not present when it came time to announce the new measure, opting instead to let Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Quinn and city health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley take the lead. Quinn could be using this measure as a political platform to demonstrate her commitment to health issues.

Just hours after Quinn and Farley announced the proposed age increase, Chicago´s health committee chairman George Cardenas suggested adopting the same law in his city.

“That´s something worth exploring because more kids are smoking now,” Cardenas told the Sun Times.

The health committee chairman did not back up his statements with any data, however. And according to an August study released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of puffing teenagers is on the decline. The number of teenagers who smoke dropped drastically in the 90s following intense, nation-wide anti-smoking campaigns, but this drop has slowed in recent years. Although teen smoking is on the decline, CDC director Thomas Frieden says there are still far too many teenagers choosing to smoke, and the majority of tobacco use begins in these early years.