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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Smoking Proposal Not A Cure

If 18, 19 and 20-year-old citizens are too immature to handle a cigarette, then they are too immature to handle the standard M4 carbine issued by the U.S. Army. Bring the kids back home.

In both the New York State legislature and the New York City Council, bills to ban sales of cigarettes to adults 18-20 years old look like they have legs, and now there’s a race with other states to put selective smoking prohibition laws on the books, maybe by the end of Spring. Some county legislators are probably readying their own press releases.

I don’t object to efforts to get people to stop smoking. Our culture has changed enough that the tobacco companies have written off the American market in the long run and are concentrating on China, Eastern Europe and other markets where intense marketing is already paying off big. We’re trained not to interfere with American corporations selling death overseas, whether it’s cigarettes or land mines or toxic chemicals that we don’t want used here.

Unfortunately, this particular proposal will do little to solve an important problem, and may make it harder to actually get some younger adults off cigarettes. I am also stunned at the nonchalance and hypocrisy with which some public officials seem to be willing to degrade the citizenship of others.

The cigarette ban is supported by some politicians who’ve strongly supported marriage equality, an issue that revolves around equal protection and status under the law. Suddenly they have no compunction to spitting all over the status of a minority that, as a group, has almost no political influence. Easy pickings.

There is no physiological difference between smoking at 20 or at 21, so why stop there? Political convenience.

In fact, 18-20 year olds smoke at a lower rate than most older adults, except seniors. Smoking tobacco ticks up with people about my age (President Obama was still sneaking smokes through his first year in the White House). Notice how politicians aren’t calling to take away privileges from men in their late 40s. We vote, we write checks, we control much of the political infrastructure. In short, we will eat you for breakfast and swallow the bones.

Once you get that Citizen Decoder Ring, you might have privileges restricted for breaking rules, but it should be one set of rules for everyone. That’s how we build good citizens and respect for law.

What makes people start or stop smoking can be a complex web of psychological, social and even political issues. There are regional differences in smoking rates and significant differences between racial, ethnic and age groups. Asian adults, even in their late teens, smoke at less than half the rate of other races, yet they’re getting lumped into prohibition. The thing that caused the single biggest drop in cigarette smoking in recent years was jacking up cigarette taxes.

Most people pick up smoking to relieve stress, which is now a national pandemic.

It doesn’t help that we’re all bombarded with advertising that makes it clear that stress, boredom, depression and all sorts of relationship problems can be solved through substance intake. Beer, liquor, prescription pills, caffeine-laced liquids, sugar, candy bars and more sugar.

Selective prohibition recreates the same punishment-based strategy that has failed so spectacularly in the “war” on some drugs. There isn’t even a health component in current proposals, as if physical addiction isn’t part of this. There are a billion “loosies” (single cigarettes) for sale around New York. Driving 18-20s underground will deprive them of supervision and socialization that can reduce or mitigate the worst behavior, like chain smoking.

We did this with alcohol, and college-age binge drinking is rampant. The payoff isn’t worth the price.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net