Led by public health crusader Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), New York City has taken some serious steps to crack down on smoking rates. After instituting the highest cigarette tax in the nation and banning smoking in public places, the city’s smoking rates plummeted. But Bloomberg didn’t stop there. Within the past month, he has also pushed to hike cigarette prices even further and ban public cigarette displays in stores — and now, yet another anti-smoking initiative may prevent New Yorkers under the age of 21 from purchasing cigarettes.
The policy is being spearheaded by both the city’s health commissioner and the City Council speaker, Christine Quinn (D), as yet another method of keeping tobacco products out of the hands of New York City’s youth. Although Quinn opposed Bloomberg’s recent initiative to limit the sale of large sugary drinks, she emphasized at a press conference on Monday that she admires the mayor’s other public health policies. “The mayor probably has the most effective public health agenda of any mayor in history in the United States,” Quinn said. “This is another example of moving that aggressive public health agenda forward.”
If approved, New York City would be the biggest city to enact the nation’s highest smoking age. The Boston suburb of Needham, MA has also raised its smoking age to 21 years old. The smoking age is 19 in four states — Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah — and a handful of counties, and 18 throughout the vast majority of the country.
Advocates of the proposed measure point to some studies that project raising the smoking age to 21 could cut smoking rates among 18-to-20-year-old Americans by more than half. It could particularly help deter the rates in New York City, since 80 percent of the current smokers in the city say they picked up the habit before they turned 21. “If we can prevent our youth from starting smoking before they’re 21, we may just be able to protect an entire generation from a lifetime of being addicted to the world’s most dangerous drug. We think this is going to work,” Dr. Thomas Farley, New York’s health commissioner, said.
Tobacco kills an estimated 7,000 New Yorkers each year. On a national scale, tobacco-related illnesses kill an estimated 450,000 Americans each year, contributing to about $96 billion in total annual public and private health care expenditures caused by smoking. Despite the undisputed negative health effects of smoking, the tobacco industry continues to target its products to American youth.