Kenyan McDuffie to introduce bill raising cigarette buying age to 21

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - D.C. Councilman Kenyan McDuffie wants to follow in New York City's footsteps when it comes to smoking.

The councilman who represents the District's Ward 5 will introduce legislation Tuesday that would raise the legal age to buy cigarettes in the city to 21.

New York City's Council passed similar legislation on Oct. 31, barring anyone under 21 from purchasing cigarettes in America's largest city.

"We have an obligation to stay on the leading edge of smoking prevention strategies here in the District," McDuffie said in statement posted to his website. "By restricting tobacco sales to young people, we can prevent many of our youth from acquiring a terrible, deadly addiction."

Andre Leite started smoking at 16 years old. He is now 32, and hasn’t been able to kick the habit yet. In his opinion, it’s possible that if it had been more difficult for him to start smoking at 16, he wouldn’t be smoking today.

"Studies have shown, if you raise the age limit of which you can purchase or possess tobacco products, it's actually more effective than doubling the price," said McDuffie.

But one group of 17-year-olds{ } say it’s a pointless bill.

"The drinking age is 21, but we all know that people are not honestly waiting until they're 21," said Nia Jolly. "So just raising it probably won't do as much as they think it will... it has to be thought through some more."

"People are already drinking and smoking right now, so I think raising it wouldn't really do much," agreed Charles Jones.

However, two other communities have raised the age limit with some success – one in Massachusetts found that the number of high schoolers that admitted to smoking dropped sharply after their town raised the age limit.

"If I started in high school and my friends were doing it and I was surrounded by it, I'd probably be more likely to do it," said 19-year-old Travis Gross.

McDuffie is basing his move on numbers from the Surgeon General, who says that the vast majority of smokers begin the habit before turning 26.

Washington has taken steps in the past to curb smoking in the city, from making lighting up in city workplaces, restaurants and bars illegal in 2006 to, more recently, banning smoking near parks and bus shelters.