New York Lawmakers Consider Increasing Legal Age to Buy Cigarettes

New York lawmakers are debating a bill that would increase the legal age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 19 years old, the Albany Times Union reported May 11.

The bipartisan measure was introduced in both houses of the legislature. Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining), a sponsor of the bill, said raising the age limit would prevent 18-year-old high school students from encouraging younger students who are in the same social circles as they are to smoke. The measure would also tighten students’ access to cigarettes, she said.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 53 percent of students had tried smoking by the time they left high school in 2002, compared with 65 percent in 1998.

The New York Public Interest Research Group is against raising the legal smoking age, saying it would have the opposite effect on underage smoking. Blair Horner, legislative director of the group, contended that high-school drinking increased after the age limit was increased from 18 to 21.

“We believe we treat 18-year-olds as adults. To limit what an adult can choose to do, based on no evidence other than that they think it’s a good idea, we don’t think that’s good enough,” Horner said.

But Sen. James Alesi (R-Fairport), who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said even though the bill is aimed at 18-year-olds, it is really targeting younger high-school students. “We’re trying to broaden the gap between the 17-year-olds and the 18-year-olds who get cigarettes legally,” he said. “We want to eliminate the source, and the 18-year-olds are a really big source.”