New York City's health commissioner and city council speaker have proposed raising the age at which someone can legally buy cigarettes from 18 to 21. This would give New York City the highest smoking age in the country.
New York City is considering a proposal to raise the smoking age to 21, which would be the highest in the country. PHOTO: Tomasz Sienicki, CC license
New York City's health commissioner and city council speaker have proposed raising the age at which someone can legally buy cigarettes from 18 to 21. This would give New York City the highest smoking age in the country: the national smoking age is 18, four states bumped that to 19, but no one has gone beyond that.
New York City, and its Mayor Michael Bloomberg are increasingly known for this sort of measure: Bloomberg has raised taxes on cigarettes to make them some of the most expensive cigarettes in the country. He has attempted to ban large, sugary drinks, and New York, like many cities, does not allow smoking indoors in bars and restaurants.
Age limits are a tricky policy matter: they have to strike a balance between public health, personal liberty and common sense. While discouraging young people from smoking will likely reduce the number who become smokers, which will be better for them and the rest of us, because they will have fewer health problems and fewer tax dollars will go to healing them, we have to balance that fact with the idea that, at some point, people have a right to smoke, and some of them will find a way to regardless of the law. We can generally agree that smoking cigarettes is a bad idea, but it's not so bad that it should be outlawed entirely.
So where to draw the line? As a culture, we've generally decided to draw that line somewhere around the point that we can call people adults: at 18, you have done most of your physical maturation, enough intellectual maturation, and so you can vote, smoke, sleep with anyone older than you, and go to war. Alcohol gets special treatment, supposedly because it is more immediately dangerous (you can poison yourself, crash your car, become violent, etc.), so you can't do that for three more years. Many have argued that a lower drinking age would make people
, because it would allow adolescents to drink without being clandestine about it. Marijuana gets the extra special treatment of being federally illegal for reasons that have little to do with public health, and a lot to do with the alcohol, tobacco, cotton and pharmaceutical lobbies working to keep it illegal.
Where should we draw the line with cigarettes (and other age-limited privileges)? Let me know in the comments and on twitter.