In New York City, first there was the Big Gulp Ban. Now there is the Nicotine Ban-if you’re under 21. A new proposal announced by Dr. Thomas A. Farley, the city’s health commissioner, and Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker, would raise the minimum age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21. The change would make New York the most rigid city in the country on the issue. Those under 21 could own or smoke cigarettes, but not buy them.
The proposal follows the general campaign against smoking instigated at the beginning of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s tenure, which led to bans in restaurants and bars that mushroomed to public places such as parks and beaches.
Ms. Quinn, a leading candidate to succeed Bloomberg, and Dr. Farley defended the proposal from critics by arguing that the transition from experimental smoking to regular smoking hits around the age of 20. Quinn intoned, “With this legislation, we’ll be targeting the age group at which the overwhelming majority of smokers start.” Bloomberg, who opposed the idea in 2006, endorses it now, but was nowhere to be seen when the announcement was made. The seller of cigarettes would be at legal risk if the buyer were under 21, not the buyer.
Quinn said age 21 “seems to me to track very much with a point we have marked in society” about the appropriate age for making adult decisions. She added that 80 percent of smokers started before age 21, and said, “We have an ability to intervene on that and make a difference.”
Farley said that the youth smoking rate in the city had plateaued after 10 years of decline. City officials cited a 2010 study in England for support of the new proposal; the study revealed that smoking among 16- to 17-year-olds plunged 30 percent when the legal buying age was raised to 18 from 16 in 2007.
18 is the legal age for buying cigarettes in most of the U.S.; California and Texas have wanted to raise their minimum age to 21, but worry about the lost taxes. Quinn addressed that argument, claiming health care savings would make up the difference.