April 30, 2013

Editorial: Compassionate, wise measure


---- — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg cares about his constituents’ health. He has forced them to reduce their intake of fats — much to the chagrin of some of the city’s civil libertarians — and tried to legislate the size of their sodas.

Now his administration is aiming to legislate against young smokers. That latter is a goal behind which sensible and sensitive people ought to stand with solidarity.

The city is proposing to raise the minimum age to buy cigarettes in the city from 18 to 21.

Why not? Why keep the age of purchase at 18? So they can begin draining the Medicaid and Medicare pools for all of us earlier? So they can expose more of us to deadly cigarette smoke?

Here’s the thing: For some unfathomable reason, some young people still seem to think smoking is cool. They’re told repeatedly it makes them dreadfully unhealthy from scary bodily breakdowns as they move through life. But, in their youthful overconfidence and shallow information pool, they believe they’ll simply quit if and when smoking becomes a personal problem.

Wait until they try. A fortunate few are able to negotiate that treacherous denial of habitual cigarettes with little difficulty. But for the overwhelming majority, it is perhaps the hardest thing they’ll ever accomplish. Too many unlucky souls never can manage it.

Research shows that 90 percent of current adult smokers started smoking at or before the age of 18, which shows how smart it is to target younger people for cigarette-sales bans.

In New York City, the cigarette retailers complain they’ll lose precious revenue to competitors in neighboring counties and states. We sympathize with them, as the loss of cigarette sales will undoubtedly pinch at a pivotal time.

But you can’t make an argument for your own prosperity based on the certain deaths of some of your customers. Besides, having to travel outside your area to buy cigarettes may be a factor in discouraging how often an individual smokes.

And 18- and 20-year-olds simply aren’t mature enough to make the decision whether to take up smoking. We know, we know — the old saw says that if you’re old enough to go to war, you’re old enough to light up. Nonsense. Military service is a decision about one’s career and one’s feeling of responsibility to the nation. It cannot be interpreted as license to recklessly bring a whole host of health woes upon yourself and those around you, at debilitating cost to everyone.

If cigarette smoking were substantially limited, so would be the amount of tax money — “sin tax” money — the government realizes. That’s another point made by smoking advocates (what a term to be applied to oneself).

But the costs of health care surely more than offset gains from sales tax on tobacco.

We congratulate New York City on taking this controversial but sage step. We hope the fervor spreads beyond the Big Apple.