The New York City Council passed a bill on Oct. 30 that would make New York City the first major city in the country to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products and electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21 years old.
The last hurdle for the bill, which passed 35 to 10, is to bear the signature of Mayor Michael Bloomberg within 30 days — a foregone conclusion for a mayor who has made improving public health an integral part of his administration.
“By raising the legal smoking age to 21, our city is sending a powerful signal to the tobacco industry, and its allies, that hooking our kids on nicotine will no longer be a viable business model,” city councilman James Gennaro, who cosponsored the bill, said in a press release.
“We know that tobacco dependence can begin very soon after a young person first tries smoking so it’s critical that we stop young people from smoking before they ever start,” Bloomberg said in a statement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 88 percent of daily adult smokers started smoking by the age of 18 years.
However, there are some skeptics who question whether the law would yield the benefits advocates of the bill champion.
“Given the sad realities of New York City’s epidemic of illegal cigarette trade, this legislation will play right into the hands of street-corner dealers of bootlegged cigarettes who couldn’t care less about age verification,” Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, said.
In response to that possibility, the city also passed a second bill that would crack down on the black market by striking down stiffer penalties on unauthorized tobacco sales.
Calvin also said that the law would inevitably cost the city jobs and hurt businesses that rely on tobacco sales.
But director of the NYU Global Institute of Public Health Cheryl Healton said that such collateral damage would be a small but necessary price to pay.
“It should be very minimal because if you think about it, you’re talking about the number of people who are smoking between the ages of 18, 19 and 20,” she said. “Honestly if someone needs to make their revenue on addicting people who are under age 21 to tobacco then get a life.”
LS freshman Jade Wootton, who has been smoking since she was 16, said the government shouldn’t have a say in who smokes.
“I don’t really think it’s [Bloomberg’s] place to do this because we’re 18 and we can risk our lives going to war for the country and that’s a life or death decision and smoking is a life or death decision essentially,” Wootton said.
But CAS freshman Raj Sanghvi, who has also been smoking since he was 16, said he understands that the government is concerned with the health of the population.
“At the end of the day, they just don’t want people to die from smoking cigarettes which is understandable,” Sanghvi said. “I might use it as an opportunity to quit.”
The New York State Assembly also introduced a bill in April that would make the requirement statewide, but the bill is still in the legislature and has not been brought up for a vote.
The New York City law would go into effect 180 days after it is signed by the mayor.
Additional reporting by Afeefa Tariq. Tony Chau is a senior editor. Email them at [email protected]