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New York City Proposes Increase in Legal Age to Buy Tobacco to 21


New York City officials revealed a new proposal on Monday that would increase the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old. This would give New York the most stringent tobacco laws of any major city in the United States. The plan would increase the legal age for buying cigarettes and tobacco products to 21 – the same as alcohol, but it would not prohibit those under 21 from possessing or smoking tobacco.

The plan was disclosed by Dr. Thomas A. Farley, NYC’s health commissioner, and Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and a prospective candidate to succeed current mayor of New York, Michael R. Bloomberg. As one would expect, opinions vary greatly on the subject and many are uncertain that the plan will be viable or effective.

Quinn and Farley defended the legislation on Monday at City Hall, arguing that since age 20 is the typical age when young adults convert from experimental to habitual smokers, making cigarettes more difficult to obtain lessens the potential of them becoming a lifelong smoker.

Quinn noted at the news conference, “With this legislation, we’ll be targeting the age group at which the overwhelming majority of smokers start.” (Hartocollis)

Brain experts like Cheryl G. Healton, dean of Global Public Health at New York University, weighed in to support the higher age minimum. According to Healton, “The executive function, the portion of the brain which is capable of making certain types of decisions, is really not fully developed until actually over 21.”

On the other hand, many New Yorkers think the proposed legislation will not only be ineffective, but will be an affront to rights and maturity of young adults. Anemona Hartocollis of the New York Times interviewed Eric Malave, a 23 year-old music production student at City College, on the subject. He argues,“By 18, people are responsible enough to make their own decisions… Forcing people to make themselves healthy tends not to work.”

Malave, from Yonkers, NY, also stated the plan would not stop young people from acquiring cigarettes.

“When I turned 18, I bought cigarettes for all my friends who weren’t 18,” he said. (Hartocollis)

Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg was not present at the announcement on Monday, the proposal is befitting for a mayor who has made public health a top priority since he took office in 2002. He was behind regulations to ban smoking in restaurants and bars in the city, and expanded on them in early 2011 to include parks, beaches, plazas, and other outdoor public places.

He also has been a pioneer in tackling the issue of nutrition, diet, and obesity. In 2008 he helped implement a ban on all food containing significant amounts of trans fat. New York City was a leader in the requirement of fast food restaurants to display calorie counts on their menus, and the (FDA) Food and Drug Administration has followed suit.

Most recently the NYC mayor has suggested a ban of super-sized sodas—at movie theaters for example—because of their astronomical sugar content. Not surprisingly, this was met with much opposition.

Mayor Bloomberg has made it a personal mission to improve the public health of New Yorkers while in office, testing the limits of governmental sovereignty. While some of his efforts have been shot dead on the water, others have become benchmark regulations and been largely effective. (Kliff)

The proposed change has been met with some skepticism, as it invokes the much larger issue of rights and freedom of choice for young adults in America. By their eighteenth birthdays, New Yorkers can legally fight for our country, drive motor vehicles, and vote in local, state, and federal elections. The proposed change would limit their freedom to choose whether to smoke or not.

This brings up the age-old argument often used to criticize the legal drinking age: current laws are inconsistent regarding the age teens and young adults are allowed to make mature, responsible, and healthy decisions. Current laws suggest that this is a gray area. Some allow legal adults freedom to make major decisions at 18, like enlisting in the military, and others require them to wait three years for privileges, like the drinking age or in this case, buying cigarettes.

Such laws change with the times, and New York may prove to be a bellwether for our nation’s attitudes towards tobacco.

Works Cited

Hartocollis, Anemona. City Plan Sets 21 as Legal Age to Buy Tobacco. 22 April 2013. 24 April 2013 .
Hartocollis, Anemona. Smoking? Combat? Wait Till 21, Young Recruits Say. 23 April 2013. 24 April 2013 .
Kliff, Sarah. Mayor Mike Bloomberg, public health autocrat: A brief history . 4 June 2012. 24 April 2013.


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Filed under: Alcohol and Drugs, Latest News · Tags: cigarettes, FDA, Food and Drug Administration, legal smoking age, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City, NYC, public health, smoking, tobacco, tobacco laws, tobacco products

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