State committees let tobacco industry meddle

By Phil Konigsberg

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a law last Friday that will raise the statewide minimum age to purchase tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, from 19 to 21, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

New York also had a golden opportunity to pass our own statewide Tobacco 21 law last month, after bills passed both the Assembly and Senate Health Committees. But “T21” was then held up by the Assembly Rules and Senate Finance Committees, respectively.

Several venues within the state of New York, including New York City, have passed local T21 bills, but the pressure by the tobacco industry once again showed up in Albany to prevent the statewide bill from reaching the full Assembly and Senate in the final week of the legislative session.

A Phillip Morris document, dated Jan. 21, 1986, explains why the tobacco industry is desperate to prevent the increasing trend of states raising the minimum purchase age to 21. The document proclaims: “Raising the legal minimum age for [a] cigarette purchaser to 21 could gut our key young adult market (17-20), where we sell about 25 billion cigarettes and enjoy a 70 percent market share.”

A published 2001 report indicates that 90 percent of persons buying cigarettes for minors are in the 17-to-20-year-old age group. If the minimum age is raised to 21, then, there will be a paradigm shift of how teens, especially 16-to-19-year olds, get their cigarettes. Clearly, those who are age 21 are in different social circles and are either in their junior year of college or have been employed for three years and generally don’t associate with 16-to-19-year olds. They are also wise enough by then not to buy cigarettes for younger people.

With the added impetus of our neighboring state soon implementing a T21 law, it is time that Albany finally gets this done during the next legislative session.

Phil Konigsberg

Queens Tobacco Control Coalition

Bay Terrace

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