Brad Gerstman in Queens Tribune: Smoking Age Increase Raises Eyebrows

From Queens Tribune:

While the City Council is considering raising the purchase age for tobacco products, some business owners feel the regulations will hurt their bottom line.

On April 22, Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley and various health advocacy organizations announced that the City Council will be taking up legislation to increase the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21 in New York City.

According to the press release, 80 percent of smokers in New York start before they turn 21. By raising the purchase age to 21, the chances of young people buying tobacco products themselves or having an older friend buy them greatly decreases. It also states that there is evidence that those who smoke at an earlier age are more likely to develop a strong addiction to nicotine than those who start at an older age. The legislation would also make enforcement of the age restriction easier as many New York State drivers’ licenses already indicate when its owner is younger than 21 years old.

While business owners and leaders agree with the idea of decreasing the smoking rate, they feel that the council is going about it in the wrong way.

“Raising the cigarettes smoking age from 18 to 21 does nothing in terms of consumption. The problem is when you raise it to 21; you’re fueling the black market even more. The black market for cigarettes is tremendous already,” Brad Gerstman, spokesperson for the New York Association of Grocery Stores, said.

Gerstman added that the legislation would hurt sales not due to a decrease in tobacco products sold, but due to a decrease in sales for other products when customers do not come by to buy cigarettes.

“Cigarettes don’t make retailers any money. When people come for cigarettes, they buy other items,” he said.

Raj Sawlani of Bayside Smoke Shop also felt the restrictions would hurt businesses, especially those close to Long Island, using the banned flavored tobacco products as an example.

“A lot of the people that smoke flavored cigars, all they have to do is drive five minutes away to Long Island,” he said.

Many feel the potential health benefits make the legislation a must. “It’s a great idea,” Phil Konigsberg, Community Board 7 member, said. “One thing I’ve certainly noticed is that the only way to keep the tobacco industry going is to get a replacement smoker. The main focus of that is the teenage smoker.”

“Our economy can only grow with healthy citizens, so we support the legislation,” Queens Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Seth Bornstein said.

“By delaying our city’s children and young adults access to lethal tobacco products, we’re decreasing the likelihood they ever start smoking,” said Quinn in a statement.

“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,” said Farley.

“This proposal would take cigarettes and other tobacco products out of the equation for high school and younger college students during a time when they should be cultivating the healthy habits that will last them a lifetime,” Gennaro said.

Dr. Jack Mann, a pulmonologist at New York Hospital Queens, felt education would be more helpful to stop smoking than more laws.

“I’m skeptical that raising the limit to 21 is really going to be effective,” he said. “We need less laws and more education. Education is the key to everything.” If the bill passes, New York would be the first major city in the United States to have a smoking age above 19 years.

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