“Curtailing smoking among these age groups is critical to winning the fight against tobacco and reducing the deaths, disease and health care costs it causes,” said Susan M. Liss, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
While tobacco use has become less prevalent in New York City over the last decade, the smoking rate has plateaued at 8.5 percent among the city’s public high school students since 2007. An estimated 20,000 of them smoke today.
It’s already against the law for many of them to buy cigarettes. But raising the minimum age would further reduce their access to cigarettes by making it illegal to turn to slightly older friends to buy smokes for them, officials say.
“We know that enforcement is never going to be perfect,” but this measure should make it “much harder” for teens to get cigarettes, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said.
City officials cited statistical modeling, published in the journal Health Policy, that estimated that raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 nationally could cut the smoking rate by two-thirds among 14-to-17-year-olds and by half among 18-to-20-year-olds over 50 years. Texas budget officials projected a one-third reduction in the use of all tobacco products by 18-to-20-year-olds.
A higher minimum tobacco purchase age could cut noticeably into sales that make up 40 percent of gross revenues for the average convenience store, said Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience stores. But he suggested younger smokers might just go outside the city — the minimum age is 19 in nearby Long Island and New Jersey, for instance — or to black-market merchants.
To smoker Audrey Silk, people considered old enough to vote and serve in the military should be allowed to decide whether to use cigarettes.
“Intolerance for anyone smoking is the anti-smokers’ excuse to reduce adults to the status of children,” said Silk, who founded a group that has sued the city over previous tobacco restrictions.