Smoking Ban if You’re Under 21: the Case Against New York City’s Ban

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Save lives.  Raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.  Discourage young people from smoking.  Who could be opposed to that?

But there are strong arguments against the  new law approved by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Banning 18 – 20 year olds from legally buying cigarettes really is arguably a double standard.

It’s easy to see this as another example of treating this age group as adults-on-training-wheels. They can drive a car,  vote, and go to war, but buying cigarettes or booze is verboten.

What New York is saying to its young citizens is that while it’s OK for under 21’s to protect us,  or be responsible enough to get behind the wheel, they must also be protected against themselves.

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This city is already plastered with warnings about the evils of tobacco.  Stores are prohibited from prominently displaying packs of cigarettes at the front of the counter.

Not long ago, it became illegal to smoke in city parks.  And yet many kids still smoke.

sign at the entrance to Washington Square Park - partial list

Sign at the entrance to Washington Square Park – partial list of no-no’s

The City Council voted for the new restriction by a decisive margin, 35-10. New York Mayor said  “this is an issue of whether we are going to kill people.”  Well, actually smokers tend to kill themselves, but never mind.

Bloomberg correctly pointed out that people who raise the economic argument “really ought to look in the mirror and be ashamed.”  But about the freedom argument, Mr. Mayor? And won’t this ban increase law-breaking with young people buying cigarettes illegally?

While the health argument may be a no-brainer for many well-intentioned politicians it’s almost certainly more controversial among the public at large. “It’s a dumb law,” says one post on debate.org.  “If you can fight for your country why can’t you enjoy tobacco?”

“I am in high school,” wrote another contributor.   “As a student you can see that people that want to smoke will find ways to buy or get the tobacco from.”

The arguments in favor of raising the legal smoking are well rehearsed.  New York City officials say 80% of smokers here started before they were 21.  Tobacco kills far more people than alcohal or drugs.

“Teens are likely to get cigarettes from other teens, so by raising the sales age we fully expect that we’re gonna see a decline in smoking in teenagers, which is what we want most,” says New York City’s somewhat ominously titled Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Tom Farley.

“Tobacco is a drug, and it’s a drug that kills more people that heroine, cocaine, crack, crystal meth combined,” argues Farley with considerable conviction.

As a parent I know his arguments carry weight.  And I admit that I once opposed New York’s ban on smoking in bars as a restriction that went too far.  Later I changed my mind.

But this new ban is open to complaints about a  nanny state.  Shouldn’t college-aged young adults be free to make their own mistakes?  What do you think?  If I am wrong again, Change My Mind!

all photos by Richard Davies

all photos by Richard Davies

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9 thoughts on “Smoking Ban if You’re Under 21: the Case Against New York City’s Ban

  1. JOINT STATEMENT ON THE RE-ASSESSMENT OF THE TOXICOLOGICAL TESTING OF TOBACCO PRODUCTS”
    7 October, the COT meeting on 26 October and the COC meeting on 18
    November 2004.

    http://cot.food.gov.uk/pdfs/cotstatementtobacco0409

    “5. The Committees commented that tobacco smoke was a highly complex chemical mixture and that the causative agents for smoke induced diseases (such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, effects on reproduction and on offspring) was unknown. The mechanisms by which tobacco induced adverse effects were not established. The best information related to tobacco smoke – induced lung cancer, but even in this instance a detailed mechanism was not available. The Committees therefore agreed that on the basis of current knowledge it would be very difficult to identify a toxicological testing strategy or a biomonitoring approach for use in volunteer studies with smokers where the end-points determined or biomarkers measured were predictive of the overall burden of tobacco-induced adverse disease.”

    In other words … our first hand smoke theory is so lame we can’t even design a bogus lab experiment to prove it. In fact … we don’t even know how tobacco does all of the magical things we claim it does.

    The greatest threat to the second hand theory is the weakness of the first hand theory.

    • Thanks for your response. I am not denying the science nor decades of research about the dangers of smoking. But I am inclined to favor letting people make their own decisions. What’s especially troubling is that one section of the adult population is being singled out for special treatment

  2. If smoking is so bad, why not stop cigarette production all together? Answer: There’s too much tax money coming in from their sales. They’ve jacked the price to the hilt, but I don’t see any results from that “extra income”.
    When cigarettes first came out the companies had to entice people to use them. They had actors on TV lighting up cigarettes so you would think it was cool. Arsenic was added for sweetness. I do believe they have since removed that poisonous chemical. The tobacco itself is probably not as much a problem as all the additives are.

    • Thanks for your comment. I think you are right about the additives. Nicotine is certainly a draw (pardon the phrase). Big corporations spend huge sums on marketing in the hopes they can boost sales.

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