(CBS) New York City is considering a law to move the legal age to purcase cigarettes from 18 to 21.
The new proposal which was announced Monday is the latest attempt in a decade-long campaign to crack down on smoking in the nation’s largest city.
“By one estimate, raising the smoking age to 21 could reduce the rate among 18 to 20 year olds by 55 percent, that will literally save lives,” New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said to CBS station WCBS in New York.
Quinn discussed details of a proposed law that would raise the minimum age for tobacco purchases.
City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, some of Quinn’s fellow City Council members and health advocates were to join her.
Another bill being proposed with the age change will set the minimum price for a pack of cigarettes at $10.50.
The two bills are specifically aimed at curbing youth smoking, but it is yet unknown if it will be illegal for 21 year olds to have cigarettes on their person.
Under federal law, no one under 18 can buy tobacco anywhere in the country, but some states and localities have raised it to 19 including Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah. Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island have also changed their smoking age to 19.
Texas lawmakers recently tried to increase the minimum age to 21, but the plan stalled.
Public health advocates say a higher minimum age discourages, or at least delays, young people from starting smoking and thereby limits their health risks. But opponents of such measures have said 18-year-olds, legally considered adults, should be able to make their own decisions about whether or not to smoke.
Some communities, including Needham, Mass., have raised the minimum age to 21, but New York would be the biggest city to do so.
“With this legislation, we’ll be targeting the age group at which the overwhelming majority of smokers start,” Quinn said.
Officials say 80 percent of NYC smokers started before age 21, and an estimated 20,000 New York City public high school students now smoke. While it’s already illegal for many of them to buy cigarettes, officials say this measure would play a key role by making it illegal for them to turn to slightly older friends to buy smokes for them. The vast majority of people who get asked to do that favor are between 18 and 21 themselves, city officials say.