Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation to raise the legal smoking age in New York from 18 to 21 years. The change takes effect in a couple of months.
That’ll keep cigarettes and vaping products out of the hands of teenagers, right?
Don’t count on it.
Is it a good goal to keep kids from smoking? Sure. It would be good if everyone quit smoking. As a former smoker, I can tell you: You’re wasting your time and your money, smokers. You’re suckers for the tobacco industry. They are literally stealing your life away from you one puff at a time. But if smoking floats your boat, have at it.
So, great. Raise the age. But how is all of this going to be enforced? Underage kids have been getting their hands on cigarettes (and booze) for decades. Raising the age from 18 to 21 isn’t likely to change that very much.
You can crack down on merchants who sell to underage kids, but it’s only so much sand tossed onto the beach. For every bodega that you bust, there’s a deli down the block doing the same thing.
But it’s more than the problems of enforcement. It’s that New York is talking out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to smoking.
On the one hand, lawmakers want to discourage smoking. They want to make sure children don’t smoke. They run public service announcements against smoking overall. There are websites run by the state and the city to help you quit smoking.
And yet the state took in $1.2 billion in cigarette taxes in 2016. The state puts a $4.35 tax on each pack of cigarettes. New York City adds $1.50 more.
That’s money in their pockets.
So lawmakers get to pat themselves on the back whenever they take a stand against smoking, but they’ll still rake in all those tax dollars generated by smoking.
And if people really did quit smoking, how would we replace all that revenue? The state isn’t going to chop $1 billion out of the budget, I can tell you that.
It’s a mixed message: Please quit smoking. At least some of you. The rest can keep puffing away so we can have some money for our coffers.
The government is financially vested in smoking.
And the levy on cigarettes is different from other “sin” taxes. At least you win once in a while when you gamble. And if you drink, at least you get a buzz for your buck.
With cigarettes? You get yellow teeth. Stinky clothes. Your car becomes a rolling ashtray. You alienate the non-smokers in your life. Cancer’s likely on the way. Emphysema. Heart disease.
Plus it’s expensive in New York. You’ve got better things to do with that $13. Better that you should spend it on scratchy lotteries. Smoking can take everything away from you. It gives you nothing in return.
So what’s New York’s answer? Encourage even more people to smoke by legalizing marijuana for recreational use. All in the name of creating even more revenue from something they know is bad for you.
And remember this: Not everybody who smokes weed smokes cigarettes. So you could actually be creating a whole new set of smokers when you legalize weed.
Of course, we’re told that underage kids won’t be able to get their hands on legal weed, but the same enforcement difficulty looms. And the problem is made worse by vaping technology that makes the smell of weed practically undetectable.
But don’t worry. There’s sure to be plenty of money rolling in. And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?
This commentary originally appeared in the Staten Island Advance at www.silive.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.