New York City To Raise Age to Buy Cigarettes To 21

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

The nation’s largest city is poised to break from the rest of the state and raise the legal age to buy tobacco in New York City from 18 to 21.

The city council voted 35 to 10 in favor of raising the legal age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos.

Opponents to the measure say that if New Yorkers are old enough to fight in wars, they should be considered mature enough to purchase tobacco.

“This is literally legislation that will save lives,” said council speaker Christine Quinn, who recently lost her bid as the next Democratic candidate for mayor.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he’s going to sign the bill. In the final months of his 12-year reign as mayor of NYC, Bloomberg has also made a bid to crack down on tanning salons and harmful UV rays in the city. He’s renowned for his soda ban, trans fat ban, and the ban on smoking in public parks.

“By increasing the smoking age to 21 we will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking,” Bloomberg said in a statement following the council’s vote. “It’s critical that we stop young people from smoking before they ever start.”

NYC now has the strictest limits on tobacco sales of any major U.S. city, The New York Times reported. Other states and counties has raised the limit to age 19. A handful of towns in Massachusetts have a legal limit of 21.

The council said it wants to stop smoking habits before they begin.

“This legislation will reduce smoking rates among New Yorkers — especially young New Yorkers — sparing them years of nicotine addiction and health problems,” Quinn said in a statement.

Officials say 80 percent of the city’s smokes began smoking before age 21. It is unclear what percentage of that group was 18 years old and how many of them obtained cigarettes illegally.

A 16-year-old in Union Square, who began smoking at age 13, told the Times the ban won’t make a difference.

“I don’t think that’s going to work,” Nicole Spencer said. She said “about half” of her underage friends in high school smoke, too.

“I buy them off people or I bum them off people.”

The new age limits will go into effect six months after Bloomberg signs the bill.

Sources: Bloomberg, New York Times