New York City is trying to reform their public health measures by changing the age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21 years old. While many are in favor of the change stating that young people will be more deterred from taking up smoking, others such as retailers and tobacco shops are unhappy with the proposal.
Reforming Public Health
The idea behind increasing the age to purchase cigarettes stems from the idea that younger children and teenagers in high school will be less prone to smoking. The city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, stated that other cities have been highly successful in decreasing the number of young people that smoke by increasing the purchasing age. In Needham, Massachusetts the age to purchase cigarettes was changed to 21 years old. A month later, the number of high school students that reportedly smoked went down to 5.5 percent from 12.9 percent. Also, in England when the age was increased to 18 from 16 in 2007, high school students that smoked dropped 30 percent. Those that support the proposal, including Dr. Farley, state that many people becoming addicted to cigarettes around the age of 21 when drinking accompanies it. If the age to purchase cigarettes changed to 21, however, younger people would be less likely to start to become addicted to smoking at 18 years old.
Mayor Bloomberg is adamant to deter young people from smoking and to promote good, overall public health. Restaurants and bars have been non-smoking for a long period of time now; however, the mayor has also added parks, beaches and plazas to the list to ensure secondhand smoke is minimal throughout the city. The question of whether these bans are working or not are crucial to understand if increasing the purchasing age would help as well. Statistics have shown that in 2002, the city entailed over 20,000 high school students that reportedly smoked, which was 21.5 percent of public high school students. That number declined to 14.8 percent in 2011, which shows that something is already working to deter youth in New York City from smoking.
Other public health reforms have taken place throughout the city as well. Recently, Mayor Bloomberg has banned trans fats in all restaurants and required them to post calorie totals. The administration for the city is trying to get back public health after numerous studies showed high rates of obesity and poor health.
A Boom in the Black Market
Those opposed to the proposition state that even if 18 year olds are unable to purchase cigarettes, they will still get their hands on them. Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs in the world and simply increasing the age to purchase cigarettes will not help someone quit. In fact, many high school students state that even when they were 15 or 16 years old they still found ways to purchase cigarettes. The age increase may only harm the city’s economy by putting emphasis on bootlegging and the black market.
Retailers are also concerned about the proposal stating that there are already too many restrictions on tobacco and alcohol products citywide. A recent proposition from the mayor was to try and hide all tobacco products in retailers; however, this would have been a harmful blow to newsstands who already have limited space to sell their products. Raising the age to buy cigarettes to 21 years will only drive 18 year olds to the black market rather than legally buying them from retailers. This will in turn hurt many small business owners throughout the city.
In the debate regarding an increase in purchasing age to 21 years old, the question arises on related products such as electronic cigarettes. Since the product is relatively new and its health effects unknown, there has been substantial debates regarding an age limit on purchasing them. Since Mayor Bloomberg is adamant about numerous other bans, most recently a proposal for a ban on super-sized sodas, electronic cigarettes are probably next in line after the age to purchase cigarettes is increased.