A new law to raise the legal age for buying tobacco products – such as cigarettes and cigars, and even electronic cigarettes – is set to rise from 18 to 21 in New York City. On Wednesday, the city council voted 35 to 10 to make New York the largest US city where it will be illegal to buy cigarettes before your 21st birthday.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a known supporter of stronger restrictions on tobacco, now has 30 days to sign the Bill into law. He says he will be doing so. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, he said after the council meeting:
“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.”
In a study published earlier this year, researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, suggested more restrictive teen tobacco policies may reduce smoking in adults.
They found that states with more restrictive limits on teens purchasing tobacco also have lower adult smoking rates, especially among women. And compared with states with less restrictive limits, they also tend to have fewer adult heavy smokers.
According to The New York Times, news about the impending vote provoked protests among some people who pointed out New Yorkers under the age of 21 can vote, drive and fight in wars, and should therefore be regarded as mature enough to decide for themselves if they should buy tobacco products.
This was the view of councilman Jumaane D. Williams, who said he voted against the Bill because it would be wrong to expect young people to risk their lives as police officers and firefighters yet tell them they have “no ability to buy a pack of cigarettes.”
But the majority of the council disagreed, including council speaker Christine C. Quinn, who said just before the vote took place:
“This is literally legislation that will save lives.”
Those behind the proposal said people were more likely to become addicted to smoking if they started earlier, and they pointed out that while teen smoking rates in New York City halved from 17.6% in 2001 to 8.5% in 2007 following sustained tobacco initiatives, they have levelled out recently.
As well as raising the tobacco-sale age, New York City council passed various other anti-smoking measures, including a ban on discounts for tobacco products, increased penalties for shopkeepers who evade tobacco taxes and a minimum price of $10.50 for a pack of cigarettes or cigarillos.
The new minimum age takes effect 6 months after the Bill is signed.
A similar bill is expected to come to a vote in Hawaii in December. Needham, a suburb of Boston, MA, raised the smoking age to 21 in 2005. The nearby town of Canton is set to do the same in January next year, while the state of New Jersey is also considering similar legislation.