New York Boosts Smoking Age to 21

By: - November 13, 2019 12:00 am

Starting today, if you want to buy tobacco or e-cigarettes in New York and you’re under 21, you’re out of luck.

That’s because a new law that raises the smoking age is going into effect.

New York is one of 18 states that have hiked the minimum legal age to 21. The District of Columbia and more than 500 local governments have adopted similar measures.

The law, signed by New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July, is aimed at preventing young people from taking up smoking.

Anti-tobacco advocates say raising the buying age will save lives — most smokers begin the habit before age 19 — and cut long-term health care costs. Opponents say it will hurt small businesses such as convenience stores, reduce tax revenue and violate the personal freedom of young adults who are legally able to vote and join the military at 18.

This year, a dozen states — Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington — voted to hike the smoking age to 21, according to John Schachter, state communications director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group that promotes reducing tobacco use.

Local governments also have been acting on their own to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21.

Cigarette use among teens has declined in recent years, but the use of electronic cigarettes, or vaping, has become much more popular.

The number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 3.6 million to 5.3 million in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in 10 middle school students and more than 1 in 4 high school students reported in a survey this year that they used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

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Jenni Bergal

Jenni Bergal covers transportation, infrastructure and cybersecurity for Stateline. She has been a reporter at Kaiser and the Center for Public Integrity.