The NYC City Council recently voted to ban the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. Before we discuss the ethics of this action, I must remind the reader that they did so without putting the topic to a public vote. It is a contentious issue that once again was decided behind closed doors, as opposed to being thoughtfully discussed in a public forum and then decided through democratic channels.
That said, by adding tobacco to the list of products unavailable to anyone under 21, is New York City positioning itself as a progressive, health conscious town, or is it declaring itself out of touch with reality? Will the rest of the nation follow NYC’s lead and increase the age-limit, as we once did with alcohol, or will it abandon the city to it’s anti-tobacco, but anti-business policies?
The ritual of smoking is a human activity that might predate verbal language, in spite of it’s toxicity. As soon as we mastered fire, we were breathing in the residual output from the fuel we burned. We learned through trial and error what caused pain, what caused pleasure, what cause euphoria and what caused death. The cigarette is currently just one of a vast number of smoking method of choice for billions of people.
Critics point out that New Yorkers over 18 but under 21 can join the military, vote, get married, and in many circumstances purchase a rifle, but they can no longer partake in the smoking of a cigarette. Moreover, local law-abiding businesses will lose revenue while blackmarket dealers will pop up unabashedly. Finally, they say, many tobacco companies are American; who are we to cut down on their profits?
Proponents of the change, however, remind us that cigarette smoking is linked to increased mortality and illness rates among the populace, and if we can keep a teen from smoking until they reach 21, they’ll be less likely to pick up the habit for good. Also, though businesses and ultimately the state will lose some money via revenue and taxes, we will save money in health costs in the long term.
Though I don’t often see value created when our state interferes with personal matters like diet. But, some amount of interference can be ultimately beneficial, when we need products we can’t produce ourselves. Then, we demand the FDA regulates foods we eat, but when New York City bans giant cups of soda, we have an aneuryism and some judge rules “Bloomberg’s” ban unconstitutional. There is little doubt in my mind that a 64oz soda is less healthy than a single cigarette, but a lifetime of either will kill you., most likely because B-berg tried to pass the ban himself. It is less likely a judge will overturn the actions of the City Council.
I say there is always a compromise to be found. In this case, we can take notes from the book of, for example firearms sales policy, which dictates that rifles are legal to buy at 18, but you must be 21 to purchase a pistol. Pistols are far more dangerous (not to mention simply concealable) and this distinction makes sense. Another example is the alcohol consumption policy for many European states, which finds distinction between beer and liquor, denoting certain ages to certain libations.Yet again, an intelligent policy that pays attention to detail, demonstrates common sense, and recognizes the variety of alcoholic options. It seems this is a policy from which the U.S. would highly benefit.
As it were, the City Council’s ban included limiting the sale of electronic cigarettes to 21+. Apparently, the nicotine contained in the E-Cig is enough to get someone hooked on cigarettes. This is nonsensical. E-cigarettes emit a vapor with traces of the nicotine compound, while cigarettes spew a harsh concoction of chemicals that belong in pest extermination labs, not down our throats.
Last, the ban is rank with age discrimination in a time when age differences should mean less than ever, but unfortunately are effecting us in profound ways. New Yorkers aged 18, 19 and 20 are all experiencing the same adult world as those older than 20, with the same responsibilities and risks, and they deserve the same personal choices. By making that choice for them, city lawmakers are diverting time toward trite partisan battles and legislation that will never have the idealist effect they assume it will.
They can be certain of one thing, though. This issue, like so many others, is a meager piece of food thrown into a cage of we starving many, something to latch onto and fight over, while the few slip away with their bellies full. And they will set the cage on fire as they go.