A new proposal in New York City could raise the age requirements for legal purchase of cigarettes from 18 to 21. The proposal would not prevent people under 21 from possessing or smoking cigarettes, but would restrict purchase of cigarettes to those 21 and older within city limits.
City council speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn and city health commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley defended the proposal, citing statistics that point to smoking becoming habitual rather than experimental around age 20. By limiting access to cigarettes within the city, the legislation would protect young smokers from lifelong addiction.
"Everything that we do on tobacco is to save lives, but we also know it will save health care dollars by reducing smoking," said Danny McGoldrick, Vice President of Research, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. "We think that changing the legal age of sale to 21 will help reduce smoking among a key target of the tobacco companies, those 18-21 year olds, which is tobacco companies themselves identify as a key period during which kids transition from experimental to regular smoking."
Opponents to the proposal argue that at age 18, people are old enough to make their own decisions about smoking.
"I think sometimes the best way to get a teenager to do something is to tell them they can't do it. So you certainly worry about whether this is the right strategy and I do think its really easy for kids to buy cigarettes," said Dr. Peter Ubel. "My bigger concern is this is just going to look like more heavy-handed [NY Mayor] Bloomberg activity that's just going to turn people against better more effective public health measures."
The number of young smokers has seen a steady decline in the past decade as it is – would the proposed legislation have much of an impact? Would young smokers go outside the city to purchase cigarettes? Is it appropriate to restrict access to legal goods for users over the age of 18?
Danny McGoldrick, Vice President of Research, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids
Dr. Peter Ubel, physician and behavioral scientist who specializes in healthy policy and economics; Professor of Business Administration and Medicine & Professor of Public Policy, Duke University