Did you hear? The minimum smoking age has increased to 21. Okay, so it is only in New York City, but it is a step in the right direction for the health of our kids and our future generation. New York City is the largest U.S. city to increase the smoking age to 21, but they aren’t the first. Massachusetts has four towns, Dover, Needham, Sharon and Canton, which have already increased the smoking age to 21. Arlington, Massachusetts will raise their age to 21 over a three-year period, and other Massachusetts towns are considering a change. The Hawaii County Council (Big Island) also signed legislation on November 20 that “prohibits the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.” Utah, one of four states with the legal age set at 19, will consider raising the age to 21 next year. And while New York City may not be first in raising its smoking age, it has had several firsts for a large metropolitan area when it comes to tobacco control, such as implementing high tobacco taxes and public media campaigns to get the health message across about tobacco.
When New York City first restricted indoor smoking with its Smoke-Free Air Act in 2003, restaurants and bars feared they would lose business and tourism would disappear. But the opposite transpired; not only did business increase, but the number of restaurants and bars also increased as the public enjoyed the smoke-free environment. Those changes that New Yorkers originally fought against have now become standards as the ideas spread to other regions of the United States.
On November 19th, Mayor Bloomberg upped the ante once again in leading the nation in tobacco control when he signed two City Council bills. Besides increasing the legal age, which will “help prevent young people from experimenting with tobacco at the age when they are most likely to become addicted,” the bills will also ban discounts, and establish a minimum price for cigarettes and little cigars.
According to the World Health Organization, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the world.” And is the “only consumer product that kills when used as intended by its manufacturers.” With the knowledge we have today in regard to illnesses and the number of deaths from using tobacco, why would any city or state not want to do everything they can to protect the health of their citizens? As New York City gets tough against Big Tobacco, let’s hope other regions follow suit.