Editorial: Under-21 cigarette ban is just hot air
Now it's Christine Quinn's turn to make New Yorkers smoking mad. The City Council speaker says she wants to prohibit anyone younger than 21 from buying tobacco in the five boroughs.
There are several reasons to worry about this.
For one thing, Quinn is a leading candidate for mayor, so her proposal raises the possibility that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's nanny state might persist undaunted long after his mayoralty reaches its Dec. 31 expiration date.
For another thing, the idea seems random.
New Yorkers can marry without the written consent of their parents at 18 years old. They can join the military then, and they can drive without restrictions by then.
But they can't buy a pack of smokes? Why not?
At some point New Yorkers -- even younger ones -- are entitled to make bad choices. What they don't have a right to do is endanger others with their bad judgment.
That's why Bloomberg's measure to ban smoking in bars and other places has become one of his signature acts as mayor. As we know, secondhand smoke kills.
And it's why states prohibit young people from buying alcohol until they're 21. Research shows that teens become intoxicated twice as fast as adults, and when drinking, they can pose a particular hazard behind the wheel.
Quinn's goal is to see fewer people become addicted to tobacco products early in life. That would increase the chances they never become addicted, and it would mean less of a strain on the public health system.
But this isn't the way to accomplish that goal.
The New York Association of Convenience Stores, a trade group, says the law would simply drive young smokers to the black market.
It may have a point, given that half the cigarettes sold in the city come with fake tax stamps or none at all, according to the city's Department of Finance.
The city has a duty to protect the public from the bad choices others make. But at some point individuals must assume responsibility for their own well-being.
Quinn's idea is an overreach.