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Two Major Cities Consider Raising Smoking Age to 21

G. Clay Whittaker
Posted: April 23, 2013

Twenty-one to purchase tobacco? It could become a reality in one or more major cities.

On Monday, New York City Council members discussed the possibility of raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21—a proposal that, if successful, would make New York's age requirement to purchase tobacco the highest in the United States, and make New York the first major city to enact such a restriction. Chicago followed suit today by beginning talks on the same concept: a three-year bump in the minimum smoking age.

Lawmakers in New York are largely targeting cigarette smoking with the initiative, quoting a figure that says some 80 percent of cigarette smokers start before turning 21, but the ban would cover all tobacco products—including premium, hand-rolled cigars—sold within the five boroughs of the city.

To some, the difference between 18 and 21 might not seem like a large segment of the population, but with more than 100 colleges and universities having some sort of campus within the city of New York (and dozens in Chicago), many of those affected will include out-of-state students. Despite spending the majority of the year living in New York, they will not be able to vote one way or another on this issue.

Local tobacconists are frustrated by the proposal, but say that younger adult customers tend not to be their target audience. "We take a lot of care and effort to merchandise our store with the finest products available. These products often exceed the interests and the budgets of young people," says Michael Herklots, executive director of Nat Sherman. "But if someone appears to be young, it is our policy to verify their age prior to engaging in any type of sale, and even further, law requires anyone who looks younger than 27 should be asked to present identification, which we fully comply with."

Len Brunson of lower Manhattan's OK Cigars says that, despite his relative proximity to New York University, he doesn't see many young customers. "Just a handful. There are about three or four guys that, now, I would feel compelled to check their IDs."

More than one New York tobacconist expects some form of the proposal to end up passing as law, but what this means for them is still very unclear. At the moment, violations of the law that prevents tobacco sales to minors can include fines of $1,000 the first time, $2,000 for the second, and can, at any point, result in the loss of a license to sell tobacco products.

"As premium tobacconists," says Herklots, "we take our responsibility very seriously to ensure that only customers of legal age are purchasing our products. And to that end, we go out of our way as premium tobacconists to make our businesses attractive to those customers we are trying to serve: adults."

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Comments   5 comment(s)

Preston Weiters Jr. — Jersey City, NJ, US,  —  April 23, 2013 11:24pm ET

4/23/13, Bloomy's nitpicking notwithstanding, businesses of any sort are over-regulated as is. I'm 65 & have been smoking cigars for 25 years. It's unlikely, however, that young students & others under 30 will opt for premium cigars such as Nat Sherman, my favorite purveyor.(Bloomy, mega media mogul, spent $600M of his own money on this world-wide anti-smoking movement.)


Leo Antrassian — Lasalle, Mi, USA,  —  April 25, 2013 1:42pm ET

This is really disappointing to hear. I am only 18 and love to smoke cigars. It is a hobby that my dad passed down to me. In addition it's difficult enough walking into a cigar shop with all the customers looking at me like I'm an alien.


Leo Antrassian — Lasalle, Mi, USA,  —  April 25, 2013 1:45pm ET

My college campus actually has a cigar club in which 5 or six fellow students under 21 get together and smoke cigars. not lack and milds but padrons, fuentes, opus x and whatever cubans we can find. I hope Detroit doesn't pass a similar law.


pierre roestorf — johannesburg, gauteng, South Africa,  —  April 29, 2013 7:30am ET

Leo - I began smoking cigars at the age of 19 at university and at first felt extremely self-conscious about going into a cigar shop. However, as soon as the people there realised I was serious they began introducing me to some of their other clients - pretty soon I had a group of interesting, mature friends who became mentors and life-long mates!


Phillip Butler — Timonium, MD, US,  —  May 8, 2013 3:58pm ET

If you are old enough to put your life on the line or kill for your country, you're old enough to make your own mind up up about smoking. Home of the free....not so much anymore.


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