New Council legislation will raise minimum age requirement to buy all tobacco products in NYC
80% of adult smokers in NYC started smoking regularly at age 21 or younger

City Hall, New York City — Today, Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Council Member James F. Gennaro, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, M.D., M.P.H. as well as representatives from leading health advocacy organizations announced that the Council will take up legislation to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 within the five boroughs. New York City would become the first major city in the nation to have a minimum smoking age above 19 years. Speaker Quinn was joined by Michael Seilback of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, Susan M. Liss, the Executive Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Dr. Cheryl Healton, Dean of Global Public Health at NYU and Professor of Public Policy at the Wagner School of Public Service, and Deidre Sully, Acting Director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City.

“Too many adult smokers begin this deadly habit before age 21,” said Speaker Quinn. “By delaying our city’s children and young adults access to lethal tobacco products, we’re decreasing the likelihood they ever start smoking, and thus, creating a healthier city.”

“When used as intended, tobacco kills one-third of the people who use it,” said Health Commissioner Farley. “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.”

Most Smokers in New York City started smoking before they turned 21. Raising the legal purchase age to 21 would reduce the opportunities for young people to buy cigarettes themselves or to get them indirectly from older youth. By one estimate, raising the smoking age to 21 could reduce the smoking rate among 18-20 year olds by 55 percent and reduce the smoking rate among 14-17 year olds by two-thirds, in part because 90 percent of the people that were asked by minors to purchase cigarettes for them were between 18 and 21.

Furthermore, there is strong evidence that people who begin smoking at an early age are more likely to develop a severe addiction to nicotine than those who start at a later age. The transition from experimental to regular smoking typically occurs around age 20. Most people who are not smokers by age 21 are not likely to start.

By increasing the tobacco purchase age to 21, no high school students will be able to legally purchase tobacco products and resell and or hand them out to younger classmates. Additionally, raising the minimum age to 21 would simplify enforcement for retailers selling tobacco products since New York State driver’s licenses already indicates conspicuously when a licensee is under the age 21, but does not do the same for any other age.

“When it comes to smoking, the science is clear: The earlier you start, the harder it is for you to quit. 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,” said Legislation Sponsor Council Member James F. Gennaro. “In the 1980s, this country decided to limit the purchase of alcohol to persons 21 and over. Back then, the goal was to reduce the hundreds of fatalities each year due to drunk driving. Today, we stand in favor of this first-in-the-nation proposal to put the same age restriction on smoking, which takes the lives of thousands of Americans each year and costs this country billions of dollars in health care costs. I congratulate Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn and Commissioner Farley for their support for this logical next step in the battle against tobacco use by people of all ages.”

Several towns in in the U.S. have raised the tobacco purchase age to 21, including Needham, MA in 2005 and Canton, MA earlier this month.

Despite the City’s success in reducing tobacco use over the last decade, the youth smoking rate has remained flat at 8.5 percent since 2007. Twenty thousand public high school students currently smoke in New York City. Two-thirds of New Yorkers favor raising the minimum age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21, with 69 percent of non-smokers and 60 percent of smokers supporting this policy.

“With today’s action, NYC becomes the first large municipality to propose increasing legal age for purchase of tobacco to 21,” Dr. Cheryl Healton, Dean of Global Public Health at NYU and Professor of Public Policy at the Wagner School of Public Service. “The City Council is to be applauded for taking this progressive step – a right that localities retain under the Family Smoking Prevention Act of 2009. NYC has been on the public health forefront by implementing evidence-based policies to reduce tobacco use and this new proposal will reduce tobacco consumption by youth, will likely avert tens of thousands of youth becoming addicted to nicotine and save many New Yorkers from suffering the health consequences of tobacco use.”

“Considering that 85 percent of U.S. smokers begin their deadly habit before they reach age 21, this legislation would help prevent more youth from succumbing to an addiction that could cost them their lives,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “We applaud New York City for their persistent effort to protect our kids from the tobacco industry’s relentless pursuit of new, younger customers.”

“Speaker Quinn and City Council members today have taken an important step to build on New York City’s progress against tobacco by proposing legislation that prohibits the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21,” said Susan M. Liss, Executive Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Nearly all smokers start as kids or young adults, so curtailing smoking among these age groups is critical to winning the fight against tobacco and reducing the deaths, disease and health care costs it causes. This proposal will help New York City achieve these goals.”

“Raising the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products in New York City addresses the prevalence of youth smokers head-on and will make for a healthier city,” said Committee on Health Chair Maria del Carmen Arroyo. “This groundbreaking legislation will set a new standard for efforts to combat smoking, and I look forward to seeing a decrease in citywide youth smoking rates.”

“We applaud Speaker Quinn and the New York City Council for taking this bold step to protect our youth,” said Deidre Sully, Acting Director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City. “According to the Surgeon General, 88% of daily adult smokers smoked their first cigarette before the age of 18, and research shows that smoking during early and mid-adolescence is far more likely to lead to addiction than the same amount of smoking after age 21. Raising the minimum legal sale age will reduce both youth access and addiction to tobacco products, saving lives and millions of dollars in health care costs.”

“NYC has always been a global leader in the creating tobacco control policies that save lives and this move is no exception,” said Sandra Mullin of the World Lung Foundation. “Raising the age to 21 will spare generations from smoking-related diseases. We applaud Speaker Quinn, Commissioner Farley and the City Council for their efforts to stop smoking before it starts.”

“I’m proud to stand with Speaker Quinn and my Council colleagues in favor of protecting young people from the harmful impact of tobacco products,” said Council Member Leticia James. “This legislation is a smart and aggressive way to stop young people from smoking before they start down the path of nicotine addiction and the vicious cycle of chronic health problems caused by smoking.”

“As someone who has lost an immediate family member to lung cancer, I support any legislation that will decrease the harmful impacts of cigarettes,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “I applaud Speaker Quinn and Council Member Gennaro for proposing this legislation, raising the smoking age to 21. Lifelong addiction to smoking begins at a young age, and the more we can do to prevent young people from becoming smokers, the better.”

“This bill makes substantial public health contributions by targeting would-be smokers when they’re at their most impressionable and most likely to develop an addiction,” said Committee on General Welfare Chair Annabel Palma. “Raising the smoking age to 21 is smart policy that will keep cigarettes out of teenagers’ hands and save lives. I fully support Speaker Quinn’s amendment.”