NYC, Chicago Could Raise Tobacco Purchase Age to 21

NYACS calls the New York City Council proposal an "exercise in futility"

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

Thomas Farley, Christine Quinn

NEW YORK -- The New York Council will take up legislation to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 within the five boroughs, New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn announced along with Council Member James F. Gennaro, New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.

If passed, New York City would become the first major city in the nation to have a minimum smoking age above 19 years.

Delaying children and young adults' access to tobacco products decreases the likelihood they will start smoking, Quinn said.

And raising the legal purchase age to 21 would reduce the opportunities for young people to buy cigarettes themselves or to get them indirectly from older youth, the measure's supporter said. By one estimate, raising the smoking age to 21 could reduce the smoking rate among 18 to 20 year olds by 55% and reduce the smoking rate among 14 to 17 year olds by two-thirds, in part because 90% of the people that were asked by minors to purchase cigarettes for them were between 18 and 21, they said.

By increasing the tobacco purchase age to 21, no high school students will be able to legally purchase tobacco products and resell and or hand them out to younger classmates. Additionally, raising the minimum age to 21 would simplify enforcement for retailers selling tobacco products since New York State driver's licenses already indicates conspicuously when a licensee is under the age 21, but does not do the same for any other age.

"Surveys by the Centers for Disease Control consistently show that underage smokers primarily get cigarettes them from adult relatives or acquaintances--an older sister, an uncle, a neighbor, mommy's pocketbook, etc.--not from retail stores where the tobacco purchase age is enforced," Jim Calvin, president of the New Your Association of Convenience Stores, told CSP Daily News. "A 2005 study for the New York State Health Department found 63% of New York smokers 18 and older buy cigarettes from lower-tax or untaxed venues. Given these sad realities, raising the tobacco purchase age would be a well-intended exercise in futility."

Following Quinn's lead, Chicago Alderman George Cardenas (12th) has proposed banning cigarettes sales to individuals under the age of 21, reported The Chicago Sun-Times. An effort to raise the smoking age from 18 to 19 in 2005 failed. Last year, Cardenas proposed banning the sale of energy drinks to anyone under the age of 21.

Several U.S. towns have raised the tobacco purchase age to 21, including Needham, Mass., in 2005 and Canton, Mass., earlier this month.