We’re all for keeping cigarettes away from kids and from discouraging them from taking up a nasty, potentially deadly habit.
We support restrictions on advertising to kids and to raising the state smoking age to 21 to discourage kids from taking up smoking at an early age.
But the city of Schenectady’s well-meaning proposal to prohibit or limit the sale of tobacco products in certain types of stores — specifically convenience stores and stores near schools — goes too far.
There are plenty of laws on the books to prevent minors from obtaining access to tobacco products already. And there are plenty of regulations that limit kids’ exposure to cigarette advertising.
For instance, it’s already against federal law to sell cigarettes to those under age 18. And Schenectady County is one of a growing number of counties in New York that has raised the age to 21.
Under state law, all tobacco products located within stores must be out of reach of consumers and must be located behind the counter or in a locked cabinet.
Stores that sell tobacco products also must register with the state Department of Taxation and Finance, which means they have to keep track of sales and the taxes they collect — another deterrent to selling to minors illegally on the side.
Even New York’s high state and local taxes help discourage tobacco use by minors by pricing them out of the market.
We realize this type of regulation might have the unspoken intent of trying to discourage other illegal activity in and around certain convenience stores, including drug sales and the sale of “loosies,” or single cigarettes.
But regardless of the good intent, and despite the well-documented dangers of smoking, city officials can’t escape the fact that cigarettes and other tobacco products are legal to sell in New York and across the country.
And to target a specific type of store for selling a specific type of legal product, when that store is complying with all other existing laws and regulations, seems an unfair assault on free enterprise and private business.
If the city wants to keep cigarettes away from kids, enforce the existing laws. Enhance the local penalties for violators. Lobby state lawmakers for a statewide 21-age limit to discourage kids from crossing municipal boundaries to buy tobacco products. Support more educational efforts in schools and with the business community.
But to prevent one business from selling tobacco products and not another reeks of Big Brother going too far.