N.J. State Senator Proposes Increase in Tobacco-Purchase Age

Well-intentioned legislation would hurt small businesses, NJGCA says

Richard Codey

TRENTON, N.J. -- New Jersey would be one of the first states in the nation to raise the minimum age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products to 21 under a measure announced last week by State Senator Richard Codey, reported The Star-Ledger.

"I think we have to send a message to our young adults: To smoke is no joke," Codey (D) said while unveiling the proposal with New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a candidate for mayor whose push for an age increase in the city prompted lawmakers in Albany to propose it for all of New York State.

"This has now truly become a regional, if not national, effort," Quinn said during a news conference at New York City Hall

As governor, Codey in 2006 signed legislation increasing the age of people to whom it was legal to sell tobacco products from 18 to 19. He said he knows the idea would not stop all kids from getting cigarettes, but said it could cut down on the number of young people who start smoking.

"In the long run, this will prevent young adults from starting at a younger age," Codey said.

"I've always believed Dick Codey to be a respected statesman and a gifted legislator," Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience, Automotive Association (NJGCA) said in a statement responding to the proposal. "I still believe that. Yesterday, the senator introduced a bill whose ultimate aim is good: reducing the number of young people who smoke. Senator Codey's goal is one which all parents, teachers, and common-sense individuals should embrace. Despite my enthusiasm for the bill's ultimate objective, however, I find that I simply cannot embrace yet another radical proposal infringing upon the rights and freedoms of adults in New Jersey, especially one which denies adults the ability to purchase legal products, while placing additional burdens on small businesses."

He added, "The current laws have already turned service station owners and convenience store clerks into police officers, checking the ID of anyone they suspect to be under 19. ... I cannot remain silent because this legislation would make it incumbent upon the owners and employees of New Jersey's convenience stores to vigilantly police their customers to ensure that the law is being upheld. Our members have consistently partnered with legislators and local law enforcement to comply with rules and regulations aimed at taking dangerous mind-altering bath salts and synthetic marijuana off the streets, but this proposal burdens small-business owners who make a living selling coffee, drinks, snacks and newspapers that tend to accompany tobacco purchases. My members offer legal products and services to the public."

Senator Codey's bill proposes only penalties for the seller of the tobacco product, not the purchaser. "It takes two to tango," Risalvato said. "Why doesn't Senator Codey propose penalties for those who violate the law and purchase cigarettes? Answer: Because the outcry from citizens of legal age to purchase legal products would be deafening. If an individual attempts to manipulate a convenience store employee to unlawfully dispense a tobacco product, that individual should be held accountable for their actions," he said.