Recent legislation in New York City raised the age at which tobacco can be purchased from 18 to 21. All types of tobacco are included in the bill, including chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes. A second bill was passed to prohibit discounts on tobacco products and increase penalties for vendors who break the rules.
With these strict bills being passed, New York City joins neighboring states in enforcing a higher tobacco sale age. For example, parts of Massachusetts also require purchasers to be over 21, while New Jersey only sells to those 19 or older and plans to vote soon to raise the age to 21.
Can Illinois expect any such legislation to come our way? Since 2008’s Smoke Free Illinois Act, no further steps seem to have been taken to crack down on smokers.
But if the state does follow suit, there could be some benefits. Young adults might not become addicted, or at least not as early or as easily, if they couldn’t buy cigarettes legally.
“Few people start smoking past the age of 21, so keeping cigarettes away from those younger may diminish the overall number of people addicted to cigarettes,” Jean Swearingen, medical director of Student Health Services, said.
Starting to smoke later in life also slightly reduces the harm done to young smokers. “The longer someone smokes, the more damage is done. There also may be more damage inflicted when the body is still developing,” Swearingen said.
However, one could argue that these laws will only make it more difficult for teens and young adults to buy cigarettes, but not impossible.
“I would expect an approach similar to the ‘alcohol model’ would be employed. Under this scenario, legally purchased products are sold or given to younger persons who are prohibited from making the original purchase.” Thomas McClure, director of Legal Studies at ISU, said.
McClure does not believe these new laws are directly targeting young smokers, but are more of an expansion of current anti-smoking sentiments being pushed through state governments. “There has been a nationwide trend in recent times to enact legislation that impacts smokers, such as higher tobacco taxes, banning smoking in restaurants, etc,” he said.
From a political approach, McClure sees the impact of the demands of the general population for more anti-smoking policies on politicians.
“Big tobacco must not have significant influence on state legislatures. I suspect that the politicians believe their constituents want to stop young adults from smoking,” he added.
But students are not the constituents who these politicians are aiming to please. Right now, voices of young people are not being heard.
“The elected officials must sense that young adult smokers do not have the political power to effectively retaliate at the polls. Unfortunately, they have to pay the price,” McClure added.