The Queens Chronicle has done a great job in covering the recent local news items related to tobacco control and smokefree issues. However, I have to disagree with the April 25 editorial stating that the City Council proposal to raise the minimum purchase age to buy cigarettes in New York City to 21 should be dropped (“At 18, smoking is your call”).
There are a number of tobacco-control proposals that have been introduced into the City Council, all of them worthy of passage and signed by Mayor Bloomberg, but the proposal in question could be the decisive turning point in finally reducing the number of our high school-age students from being the next replacement smoker generation.
Let’s not fool ourselves to think that teens wait until they have reached the magic age of 18 before they try their first smoke. It’s very clear that kids start to experiment with tobacco as early as age 14 and most start at age 16 or 17. This unfortunate dilemma was verified by the previously secret tobacco industry documents that uncovered their research and subsequent marketing strategy to target mid teens to become new tobacco users.
The key point that the Queens Chronicle is missing here is teens who are not legally able to buy their smokes rely on their friends aged 18-20 to buy cigarettes for them. A 2001 published report indicates that 90 percent of persons buying cigarettes for minors are in this age group. If the minimum age is raised to 21, then, there will be a paradigm shift of how teens, especially the 16-18 year olds, will be able to get their cigarettes. Their sources will no longer exist. Those who are 21 years old are in different social circles and are young adults who either are in their junior year of college or have been working for a living for three years and generally don’t hang with 16-18 year olds and are wise enough by then not to buy them cigarettes.
New York City would not be the first venue to raise the purchase age of cigarettes above 18. Two Massachusetts towns have raised the bar to 21 and New Jersey and neighboring Nassau and Suffolk counties have a minimum purchase age of 19. According to a New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene survey conducted last year, two-thirds of New Yorkers favor raising the minimum age for sale of cigarettes from 18 to 21, with 69 percent of nonsmokers and 60 percent of smokers supporting this policy.