It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, it’s cold and rainy and sophomore Ben Giese has just left the dry safety of Jasper Hall for an early evening smoke break.
It is starting to drizzle on the quad again and although it looks like he is about to get rained on, Giese whips out his lighter and sparks up his machine-rolled cigarette. Early evening cigarettes are popular on campus and a part of the everyday schedule for Giese and his friends.
The most interesting thing about tobacco culture at Manhattan College, though, is that only a few of the campus-wide smokers are legally able to purchase all the cigarettes that they smoke.
It has been almost a year now since the New York City Legislation passed into law an act that raised the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21.
The law, which went into effect last June, prohibits the sale of cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes and many other tobacco-based products to adults under the age of 21. This, of course, has come under much criticism from smokers in New York and at Manhattan College.
“If people want to smoke, they’re going to find a way to smoke no matter what the law is,” Giese said as he took another drag.
The law is designed to curb cigarette sales to young adults in New York City. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a public statement last year that the purpose of the law was to keep people from buying tobacco at a young, impressionable age.
Of course, Giese does not think he is as impressionable as the city legislature would suggest. “Honestly, I’ve seen more people smoking this year than I did last year,” he said when asked about cigarette culture on campus.
Indeed, there is not much of a difference in the number of smokers hanging out in front of Thomas Hall or on the bridge leading into Horan between this year and last year. In fact, those numbers are pretty much the same.
Then how effective could this law have been? Has anyone quit as a result of this law? Has it made it more difficult for under-aged smokers to get a hold of tobacco? How have people adjusted?
The answers to these questions range widely.
“Honestly, it has made me want to smoke less, but if I want a pack, I’m going to go out and buy a pack,” sophomore Paul Forte said, who concluded his statement with a long drag of his cigarette.
Clearly, the law hasn’t stopped him.
“It’s just made it harder for me to go out and find a pack of smokes, but I still can get them,” Alex Fitzpatrick said. Fitzpatrick has done little more than change the venues from which he purchases his cigarettes.
Giese sat down on a bench and took another drag, “My roommate and I bought a rolling machine and just buy our tobacco in bulk,” he said.
He claims that this is a new route that students have taken in order get their tobacco fix. Giese is not alone in his endeavors, as he and some other students took a trip last week to New Jersey to buy bags of tobacco so they can roll their own cigarettes.
“I just go to a store that I know will sell to me without carding me,” Fitzpatrick said.
This cannot be the best way to fix a tobacco problem in a city full of smokers.
Young people have not stopped smoking; the culture of Manhattan College is still one that promotes tobacco smoke. The students here have a right to vote, drive and fight in wars and now they no longer have a right to smoke cigarettes.
In the year since the law has been passed, The Wall Street Journal sites an increase in the number of adult smokers in New York City instead of a decline. The rate, which has risen from an all time low of 14 percent to 16.1 percent, indicates a failure of the city to convince people to quit smoking.
James Calvin, the president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, told the New York Daily News last year, “[the New York Legislature] has effectively doubled the size of the fake ID industry.”
Fake IDs are huge part of college culture and Manhattan College is certainly no exception. Some students, who normally reserve the purchasing of fake IDs for alcohol, have resorted to purchasing them in order to acquire tobacco products.
“Just recently a friend of mine from high school asked if I could get him a fake ID just for tobacco—he doesn’t even drink,” Fitzpatrick said.
I return to Giese’s comment: if people want to smoke, they’re going to smoke.
Indeed the law has made tobacco purchasing more of a hassle for under-aged smokers. Yet it is obvious as Giese finishes his cigarette and walks away, that smoking is a part of the Jasper way of life and no law can take that away.