Daniel Doherty

America’s “most dangerous mayor” is rather proud of himself this week. Why? Because he raised the minimum age to legally purchase cigarettes in New York City:

But will this bill actually “reduce smoking” in New York City? Some doctors and lawmakers think so:

Officials in New York estimate that raising the purchasing age to 21 will cut tobacco use by 55% among 18- to 20-year-olds and lead to a 67% drop among teens aged 14 to 17 years.

Steinberg knows that limiting access to tobacco is not the only strategy for reducing youth smoking, but it's a start.

"It's not going to fix the problem in and of itself," said Steinberg. "You also need educational programs."

Color me skeptical. Marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes are readily available to high school students everywhere (as sad as that is to say), not to mention young people over the age of 18 but not yet 21. These well-intentioned doctors and lawmakers presume, then, that a simple tweak in a law will somehow have sweeping net-positive effects. I’m not so sure. Of course, some under-21-year-olds will have a harder time finding stores that will sell to them. And some may very well end up not smoking as a result -- a good thing. But ultimately if an 18-year-old in New York City wants cigarettes, he or she is going to get cigarettes. Simple as that.

What’s far more concerning, I think, is how such laws erode individual liberty, a point Doug Mataconis made a few weeks ago when this bill was making its way through City Hall:

Fundamentally, though, laws such as this seem incompatible with the idea of individual liberty. The law tells us that someone who is eighteen is legally able to marry, enter into contracts, buy a home, pay taxes, enlist in the military, and engage in a whole host of other “adult” activities. There doesn’t seem to me to be any rational justification for saying that such a person should not also be able to legally drink a beer and smoke a cigarette if that’s what they want to do.

The do-gooders claim they know what’s best for 18 to 21-year-olds better than they do. They don’t. So while smoking cigarettes is a filthy and terrible habit, don’t you think if, say, a soldier under the age of 21 wanted to purchase cigarettes in New York City, he or she should be afforded that right?

I do -- despite what the good mayor or anyone else might say.


Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography