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.
Merris Penth peers through the eyepiece.
"What do you see?" asked a man in the backseat of the parked car.
"Nothing yet. Let me focus. Okay, just two of them talking," Merris says. "The shorter one is holding something. Other’s hands are moving fast."
"That’s right. Be ready to move."
Merris thinks about the machine he was sitting in. This car, he thinks, is brilliant in concept but fails in a functional way because humans actually operate them. It’s one thing to operate the car, he thinks, and its another to drive it on a road or track with other human-operated vehicles, let alone with other passengers.
All-terrain invisible weapons.
Yes, he concluded, a car is a dangerous implement, as he unconsciously grips with his right hand the hilt of the steel sword that rests on the seat next to him.
The fingers on his left hand graze methodically over the sidearm lashed to his leg.
He preferred going into action with the capacity for both fight or flight.
Then the man in the backseat opens his door and gets out and closes the door quietly. Merris watches him approach the two.
Then Merris sees two flashes of light followed imperceptibly after by two splitting cracks that rattled in his soul. It was too dark to see the woman and man fall, but the visual imprint of their expressions would stored in his mind until the day of his death.
The traumatic moment was over quickly. Merris turns the car on, puts it in gear and accelerates away from the killing. The gunman had been a plant by the East, a spy long embedded in the Legion with a false identity.
Then why didn’t he kill me first Merris thinks as he peels around a corner, narrowly avoiding a barrage of bullets from the Eastman. He needed to get back to Legion headquarters to deal with fallout from the spy. He turns on his car’s Artificial Intelligence, a congenial program with a faintly coastal accent and that called itself Sparrow.
"Sparrow, tell the Legion to meet at Lightless in twenty minutes. Also, send a read-out of each suspect’s biometrics for analysis. I need to learn the identities of the male and female suspects."
"Right away, Sir. Do you want me to take over driving?"
"No, i’ll take it unless we attract a tail, in which case you’ll steer while I shoot."
"It would be my pleasure," purrs Sparrow.
He drove through the miles of dark alleys, lined with shuttered houses.
He saw faces crowded in the windows, lit up by candles, wondering about the distant revving of a lone engine as it raced through their city.
He felt alone in a world inhabited by fearful inhabitants, men and women that fear themselves and fear others.
They may see constant acts of kindness or constant acts of violence, but they will both experience constant fear.
Because fear is a force that keeps us alive, Merris sometimes thinks. It keeps him on his toes. It is that constant reminder that he is housed in a mortal body.
He does not fear simply because he knows that he has only one life. It’s that all he wants to do is experience everything, every wonderful object and moment of existence that seemed always just ahead of him and always just behind him. How to live in the right now is Merris Penth’s constant project.