Al Rasheed: Change in NYC’s legal smoking age not likely to enact real change

By Sophia Al Rasheed / Columnist

It was announced last week that New York City will raise the minimum age for purchasing cigarettes to 21 through a bill titled Tobacco 21, proposed by the City Council in hopes of reducing the number of people who become addicted to this form of tobacco.

“This is literally legislation that will save lives,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn in a New York Times article last week.

Increasing taxes on cigarettes has already lowered the incentive for adolescents to purchase them. And raising the legal purchasing age for cigarettes would further reduce the damage. The argument in place still dances around the main cure for cigarette addiction — omitting additives such as nicotine that increase the likelihood that the first pack isn’t the last. If government officials truly cared about this issue, despite the revenue of this lucrative business, this is where they should start. 

The passage of this bill is just one of several tactics that will be adopted to lower the amount of cigarette purchases in the country. The New York Times article also mentions that there will be “increased penalties for retailers who evade tobacco taxes, prohibition of discounts for tobacco products and a minimum price of $10.50 a pack for cigarettes and little cigars,” in order to discourage purchases. 

“I don’t think that’s going to work,” said 16-year-old Nicole Spencer in the aforementioned article. Spencer pointed out that she has been smoking since she was 13 and never had trouble finding cigarettes.

Other arguments, similar to those that criticize the legal drinking age, relate to the opinion that 18 is old enough to make your own decisions on such matters.

“If at the age of 18 we can fight for our country and potentially die, we should at least be able to have a cigarette before we do it,” said Sam Adler, a senior at Wagner College on Staten Island. Adler wasn’t alone in his opinion, as opponents to the bill brought this up in the argument Wednesday. However, as mentioned in the New York Times, “The Bloomberg administration’s argument — that raising the age to buy cigarettes would discourage people from becoming addicted in the first place — won the day.” 

So for short-term results, we can expect the number of smokers between the ages of 18 and 21 to drop. But in the long run, cigarettes remain a highly addicting, highly harmful product that people will continue to purchase. The health risks associated with smoking are well-recognized, and cigarette purchases remain steady, proving that efforts thus far have been unsuccessful. Despite the efforts to showcase the harm of cigarettes — such as the larger bolding on cigarette packs and, in some cases, images of health problems caused by smoking — people still continue to buy them. Raising the age to 21 just seems to prolong the inevitable.

Fortunately, some legislation is following this logic. For example, in a recent case in Florida, one county banned nicotine altogether. These efforts on the part of the government, unlike raising the age at which people can choose for themselves whether they want to partake in the habit, are more likely to yield actual results.

The initial choice to smoke a cigarette is obviously up to the individual, but the craving for another is caused by these additives. But, as legislation has demonstrated in the past, the lucrative advantages apparently outweigh the benefits of omission altogether.

The fact of the matter is that people are completely aware of how terrible and harmful smoking is, and the twisted part is that we still find reason to do it. Each cigarette takes approximately 11 minutes off a life, according to research, but you will likely never go a day without seeing someone with a cigarette in hand. Aside from the stigma we attach to smokers, there’s little we can actually do to prevent the habit.

Privileging those above the age of 21 in New York City to the regulated, toxic sticks, and deeming those from the ages of 18 to 20 simply unable to make this decision, despite the other duties they’re deemed responsible enough to carry, only seems to insult the age group.

Write Sophia at [email protected].