New York officials announced Monday Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to raise the legal limit for buying all tobacco products from 18 to 21. It would not, however, prohibit adults under 21 from smoking cigarettes. In other words, cool older brothers across the New York metropolitan area just became a lot more popular.
So how does Mayor Bloomberg decide to introduce this surely overwhelmingly popular proposal? Well, given the “success” of his large soda ban, he hides of course. Instead of boldly announcing this healthy dose of paternalism himself, Bloomberg grants the honor to Christine C. Quinn, New York’s City Council speaker, Mayoral candidate, and soon-to-be human ashtray.
According to Ms. Quinn, there was, in fact, some thought behind the proposal; “With this legislation, we’ll be targeting the age group at which the overwhelming majority of smokers start.” Or, put in other words, “we wanted this legislation to piss off a majority of smokers. Besides, since clearly everyone respects the legal age limit for alcohol consumption, it’s a surefire win. Nobel prize please.”
To clarify, the legislation would punish shop owners who sold tobacco products to adults under 21 rather than the consumers. This really just adds insult to injury. Not only are young adults too immature to decide for themselves whether or not to smoke, but even too young to bear responsibility for their choices. Clearly the malicious owners of convenience stores are wealthy enough to bear the burden.
To recap, an American 18-year-old may determine the future of this nation by voting, kill and die for this country by enlisting, and raise another human being by adopting. All of this is as legal as a Norman Rockwell painting of a boy scout saluting the flag. But, if a college student decides to take a cigarette break with a rum and 16 oz coke, all hell breaks loose in New York.
Of course Mayor Gloomberg is trying to repair his image after the local courts struck down his beloved ban on large soda. Let’s make this clear, Mayor Bloomberg is about as fun as a dozen hard candies wrapped in a wet rag.
Oh but the fun does not stop there. Bloomberg has also announced concurrent legislation forcing retailers to actually conceal their tobacco products. Obviously, the only reason people buy cigarettes anyway is because of the brightly colored packaging. In the end, this legislation will lead to something akin to a tobacco Easter egg hunt.
But wait, there’s more! Bloomberg also introduced more legislation in March that ensures the cost of a cigarette pack never dips below $10.50. This puts a single cigarette at about 50 cents or, in other words, five cents a puff. Pretty soon, you might find it a better bargain to get your fix by snorting gold dust.
Fortunately for Mayor Bloomberg, there is substantial precedent for banning certain groups from smoking in New York. At the turn of the century, New York banned women from smoking in public. It’s nice to watch history come full circle, if by "full circle” you count politicians turning 360 degrees in the name of progress.
The proposal, aside from harboring a condescending outlook on the rational faculty of young adults, is fighting a battle already won. Fourteen to 22-year-olds already overestimate the health risks of smoking. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because of the images of deformed fetuses, gangrened limbs, and gory autopsies plastered as “warning labels” on cigarette packs.
Here are some extra proposals for Mayor Bloomberg to consider. The Clinton Ordinance would allow the purchase of cigarettes but makes inhaling a capital offense. The Sisyphus Proposal forces smokers to reassemble their cigarettes after use. Then there’s the Public Shame edict that would allow smokers under 21 to be tarred and feathered and allows officers to tell any smoker they were adopted.
To be clear — I don’t smoke. Nor do I live in New York. But you don’t have to be a dolphin to support dolphin-free tuna. However, I am a friend to many Tobaccan-Americans at Harvard and I see them face ever-increasing restrictions. Even at Harvard, home to the brightest minds, smokers cannot smoke within 25 feet of any Harvard building or anywhere on the Longwood campus, the Business School, or the Kennedy School of Government (of all places that could use a cigarette). If Cambridge adopts its proposed outdoor smoking ban, there may not be a safe place to light up for seven square miles. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that these laws arise from merely an aesthetic and personal repugnance, without regard for self-determination.
Sarah R. Siskind ’14 is a government concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.
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