In a move to help keep New York’s youth healthier, the New York City Council had just adopted a bill that will raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. Included under the bill’s umbrella are tobacco, cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has said he would sign the bill. The new minimum age will take effect six months after signing.
The new law is a capstone to more than a decade of efforts by Mr. Bloomberg, like banning smoking in most public places, that have given the city some of the toughest antismoking policies in the world. One proposal to the bill that was dropped was banning the display of tobacco products in stores.
Those opposing the age increase argued that 18 year olds can drive, vote, and serve in the military. They said they should therefore be responsible and mature enough to make decisions regarding personal tobacco use. However, those favoring the age increase successfully lobbied that raising the age to buy cigarettes would discourage people from becoming addicted in the first place. The move would also save money on giving out free smoking cessation materials.
“This is literally legislation that will save lives,” Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, said shortly before the bill passed 35 to 10.
The earlier young people begin smoking, the more likely they are t become addicted to nicotine, according to the American Lung Association. Cigarette smoke contains over 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Smoking is directly responsible for approximately 90 percent of lung cancer deaths and approximately 80-90 percent of COPD (emphysema and chronic bronchitis) deaths.
About 8.6 million people in the U.S. have at least one serious illness caused by smoking. Among current smokers, chronic lung disease accounts for 73 percent of smoking-related conditions. Smoking-related diseases claim an estimated 443,000 American lives each year, including those affected indirectly, such as babies born prematurely due to prenatal maternal smoking and victims of “secondhand” exposure to tobacco’s carcinogens.
In addition to the “Tobacco 21” bill, the NYC Council also approved a second bill, “Sensible Tobacco Enforcement.” It will prohibit discounts on tobacco products and increases enforcement on vendors who attempt to evade taxes.
New York City has now become the largest city to have an age limit as high as 21. Neighboring states and counties have raised the tobacco sale age to 19, including New Jersey, and some local municipalities, such as Needham, Mass., have raised the age to 21.
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