[UPDATE BELOW] A bill that would bar the purchase of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and other tobacco products for those younger than 21 is likely to pass the City Council this afternoon, capping an era of successful anti-smoking legislation that began with New York City's indoor smoking ban in 2002.
The ban, whose primary sponsor is Queens councilmember James Gennaro, was originally part of a trio of bills aimed at tobacco regulation, including one that would increase the penalties for retailers selling illegal cigarettes and set a price floor for a pack of cigarettes at $10.50; another that would force retailers to hide cigarettes displays. The former is also expected to pass, while the latter bill was quietly withdrawn last week, as vendor associations and other opponents seemed ready to wage yet another court battle with the Bloomberg administration over the law's constitutionality. A draft of a bill that would effectively ban e-cigarettes entirely was also scrapped.
Roughly 20,000 New York City high school students currently smoke. According to the office of the Surgeon General, 88% of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18, and 90% of those who purchase cigarettes for minors are between the ages of 18 and 20.
"Imagine a law intended to define 18 to 20 year olds as stupid," smokers' rights advocate Audrey Silk posits in a press release. "Well that's what the NYC Council has on tap."
"The point of this bill has always been to prevent young people from smoking, because the data shows that the younger you start smoking, the harder it is to quit," said Paul Leonard, a spokesman for councilmember Gennaro.
As for e-cigarettes being covered under the bill, Leonard says, "E-cigarettes are an untested and addictive product. They contain nicotine. E-cig usage has more than doubled in the last year for high school students, so it was a no brainer to add e-cigarettes to the bill."
Gregory Conley, an attorney and legislative director for The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, a group that promotes e-cig usage, said it was a mistake not to grandfather in existing tobacco and e-cig users.
"The most absurd part is that herbal non-tobacco shisha and rolling papers, both of which expose users to far more hazards than e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, are only restricted to those 18+," Conley wrote in an email.
The CDC notes that studies have shown that the smoke inhaled from a hookah's burning charcoals "increases the health risks by producing high levels of carbon monoxide, metals, and cancer-causing chemicals," regardless of whether the shisha contains tobacco.
As for rolling papers, we have no earthly idea why anyone under 21 would use little pieces of paper pasted with glue.
If the bill passes, the law will go into effect next spring.
Update 5:45 p.m.: As expected, it passed, making NYC the first "major city" (in the City Council's wording) to raise the minimum legal sales age of tobacco products from 18 to 21.