Want to buy a smoke? If you’re 19 or 20 years old, you might need to leave town to do so, if a recent proposal becomes law in Highland Park.
Under a measure proposed by the Highland Park Board of Heath for the Highland Park Borough Council to consider, it would become unlawful for any business to sell tobacco products or electronic smoking devices to anyone younger than 21 years old. New Jersey raised the legal age to buy cigarettes from 18 years old to 19 in 2006. The council at its Feb. 17th council meeting discussed the proposal to increase the legal age for purchase by two years, but took no formal action.
“I think it’s important for the health of our youth and for the future of Highland Park citizens that we look into this,” said Councilman Joshua Fine. “It’s my hope that it will be discussed at the next borough council meeting.”
The argument of the proposal is a familiar from previous campaigns to stamp out or discourage smoking. The board of health refers to the known health risks of smoking, and cites a statistic from the Centers for Disease Control that nearly nine of 10 smokers first try cigarettes by the age 18; therefore, it is argued, that raising the legal age to purchase tobacco in Highland Park may prevent people from ever beginning.
Discussion Tuesday evening weighed heavily on not only the impact such a measure could have on public health, but also the impact it would have on local businesses. Aside from the tobacco sales at Rite Aid and Stop and Shop, officials particularly were concerned about the wisdom of an ordinance that would affect Vapor Talk, a fairly new business on Raritan Avenue that sells e-cigarettes.
At Vapor Talk on Wednesday morning, the manager on duty, Evan Raksin, minced no words in his reaction to the proposed policy. “That’s really stupid,” he said. “People are going to continue smoking. They’re just going to buy their cigarettes a little further away.”
The fate of the proposal is uncertain. While council members support the notion of discouraging smoking, several expressed a desire to hear officially from Vapor Talk before giving the Board of Health’s proposal serious consideration.
If the council were to institute such an ordinance, Highland Park would become the third municipality in the state to enact such a measure. Sayreville and Englewood both have set the bar in their borders to 21.