The city's unceasing crusade to cut down on smoking will continue today when City Council speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn announces a new proposal to increase the minimum age of purchasing cigarettes from 18 to 21, the highest in the country. Four states, along with three counties in New York, have set their minimum age at 19, but nobody has managed to push it all the way to 21.
New York might have gotten there years ago, though, if it weren't for Mayor Bloomberg, who, in 2006, threatened to veto two competing proposals that would have boosted the minimum age of tobacco purchases to 19 and 21, respectively. For a man who has waged something of a personal war against cigarettes — in addition to spearheading various smoking restrictions in New York City, Bloomberg has spent at least $600 million of his own money on anti-smoking efforts worldwide — Bloomberg's opposition was puzzling at the time, as the New York Sun reported:
City Council members yesterday expressed surprise at the mayor's position. "I'm speechless. I am speechless," said Council Member James Gennaro, a Queens Democrat who is the sponsor of a bill to increase the minimum legal age to buy cigarettes in the city to 19 from 18. Mr. Gennaro pronounced himself "flabbergasted."
Bloomberg claimed at the time that raising the smoking age simply wouldn't work:
Mr. Bloomberg and his health advisers say similar restrictions on cigarette sales to teenagers in places like Nassau and Suffolk counties haven't proved effective. And the advisers expressed concern about the effects of the measures on 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds who are already addicted to tobacco and now would not be able to get their nicotine fix legally....
Mayor Bloomberg, who said at an afternoon news conference that he would veto the two age bills, said he and the city health commissioner aren't convinced that the council's latest antismoking initiatives would work.
"The best ways to reduce smoking among young people is to raise cigarette taxes because cigarette taxes have been shown to directly impact the younger people's ability to buy cigarettes," the mayor said.
But Bloomberg has had a change of heart and now supports Quinn's nearly identical proposal, spokesman Marc LaVorgna has confirmed to Daily Intelligencer.
"We’ve cut youth smoking in half, but recently the decline has plateaued," LaVorgna explains. "You may have seen we recently proposed some other measures we had not supported before – requiring stores to remove cigarettes from public view and setting a minimum price – try to address this. So we revisited this proposal and found new data from the UK that shows it can have an impact."
Considering how puzzling and uncharacteristic it was for Bloomberg to oppose the age boost in 2006, perhaps a regression to the mean was inevitable.