The city is cracking down on smoking again, this time by proposing to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21.
The City Council is taking up legislation that would make New York City the first major city in the nation to have a minimum smoking age above 19 years.
Several towns in the country have raised the tobacco purchase age to 21, including Needham, Massachusetts in 2005, and Canton, Massachusetts earlier this month.
According to Council Speaker Christine Quinn, one of the bill's greatest proponents, many smokers in New York City start smoking before the age of 21. Her hope is that this legislation could minimize that number.
"By delaying our city's children and young adults access to lethal tobacco products, we're decreasing the likelihood they ever start smoking," Quinn said.
The legislation's sponsor, Councilman James Gennaro, was emphatic about the benefits this legislation posed.
"When it comes to smoking, the science is clear," Gennaro said. "The earlier you start, the harder it is for you to quit."
Gennaro likened the proposal to the legislation in the 1980s that increased the minimum drinking age to 21 for the purpose of reducing drunk driving deaths. He noted that smoking not only claims American lives, but costs the country billions of dollars in health care needs.
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley noted that one-third of all smokers die from the habit.
"By raising the legal purchase age to 21, we will prevent a generation of New Yorkers from becoming addicted to smoking and ultimately save thousands of lives," Farley declared.
The bill's advocates estimated that raising the smoking age to 21 has the potential to reduced the smoking rate about 18-20 year olds by 55 percent, and among 14-17 year olds by two-thirds.
These figures come in part, they said, because 90 percent of the people who were asked by minors to purchase cigarettes for them were between the ages of 18 and 21.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a law last month that would require stores to keep cigarettes in concealed locations.
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