The age to legally buy cigarettes in New York City would rise to 21 from 18 under a proposal that officials unveiled on Monday, a measure that would give New York the strictest limits of any major American city. The proposal would make the age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products the same as for purchasing liquor, but it would not prohibit people under 21 from possessing or even smoking cigarettes.
This latest proposal, announced by Dr. Thomas A. Farley, the city’s health commissioner, and Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and a mayoral candidate, puts New York squarely into the middle of a debate over the rights and responsibilities of young people, and it drew much skepticism. At 18, New Yorkers are old enough to fight in wars, to drive and to vote, but if the smoking restriction passed they would be prohibited from deciding whether to take the risk of smoking.
Ms. Quinn and Dr. Farley defended the proposal, saying that people typically make the transition from experimental smoking to regular smoking around age 20, and that by making cigarettes harder to obtain at a young age the city would make it less likely that people would become lifelong addicts.
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