New York may become the first major city to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco to 21.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley introduced a bill on Monday that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. The motion is just one of many attempt by one of the nation's largest city's to crack down on smoking.
8 in 10 smokers picked up the habit before the age of 21, according the city bill. Around 8.5 percent of smokers are high school aged and of those, most under 18 obtained cigarettes from smokers only slightly older. While raising taxes on tobacco has helped to curb the number of smokers, the number of young smokers who pick up that habit has remained steady.
"By one estimate, raising the smoking age to 21 could reduce the rate among 18 to 20 year olds by 55 percent, that will literally save lives," New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told CBS. "The more difficult it is for [young people] to gain access to tobacco products, the less likely they are to start smoking."
Increasing the age limit will not be the only proposal made by lawmakers. A second bill will also set the minimum price of cigarettes at $10.50 a pack. Currently, packs sold in New York City carry a state tax of $4.35 and a city tax of $1.50. As a result, New York City is one of the most expensive places to be a smoker.
Quinn, who has supported New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the past on health initiatives, has said her proposed bill is a part of increasing public health.
"The mayor probably has the most effective public health agenda of any mayor in history in the United States," she told the Daily News. "This is another example of moving that aggressive public health agenda forward."
But some have argued that targeting young smokers is unfair.
"By 18, people are responsible enough to make their own decisions," Erik Malave, 23, said in an interview with The New York Times. "Forcing people to make themselves healthy tends not to work."