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Schenectady County Considers Anti-Tobacco Legislation

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Another upstate New York locality is considering banning the sale of tobacco products to people under the age of 21.

The U.S. Surgeon General has proclaimed smoking a “pediatric epidemic.” In New York, the average age of a new smoker is 13 years old, and 90 percent of adult smokers say they first tried smoking by age 18.  Jeanie Orr, Project Coordinator for the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition, says research shows that raising the purchase age to 21 can reduce smoking rates by 12 percent.    "95 percent of people who start smoking start before the age of 21, and if you start early, you're going to become addicted, much more than if you start later, and three out of four U.S. adults favor tobacco 21, seven out of 10 adult smokers favor making the age 21 to purchase tobacco."

The Schenectady County Legislature has scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday night as it considers passing a new law that would prohibit sales of cigarettes, tobacco products, liquid nicotine, and electronic cigarettes to people under 21.  The bill was introduced by Karen Johnson, Vice Chair of the County Legislature.  "We have worked together on community planning and a large number of community groups have determined that smoking is one of the most serious public health programs that we have, so we're going to explore whether this effort to limit the sale of cigarettes to those who are 21 and older might not, and the data shows that it will, decrease the amount of smoking by our young people, and therefore decrease the amount of smoking in their lifetime."

In May, the Albany County legislature passed legislation raising the tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21.  County Executive Dan McCoy in June approved the law, which also restricts purchases of liquid nicotine, e-cigarettes, rolling papers and pipes.

In June, Williamstown became the second municipality in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, to raise the age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21. Lanesborough enacted a statute that takes effect in 2018.

According to the advocacy group Tobacco21, 70 Massachusetts communities have raised the tobacco purchasing age above 18 since 2005.

Williamstown Board of Health member Dr. Win Stuebner told WAMC the board considered studies including a March finding by the Institute of Medicine that show raising the age above 19 significantly dropped teenage smoking rates.   “The 21 age seems to be the key age. Probably the reason for that is that takes the age out of the teenager’s peer group. At 19 they may still have friends that can buy them the tobacco products, but at 21 that seems to be a little more difficult.”

Again, Jeanie Orr:   "Obviously with Schenectady and Albany County in this area, with them taking a look at this issue they're saying that 'yes it is a problem still and there's something that needs to be done about it,' the community is speaking up and that's why Albany County passed the law, and now Schenectady is taking a look at it as well, as well as other parts of the state too, including New York City, Suffolk County, other places in western New York."

The public is encouraged to attend the meeting: 7 p.m. at the Schenectady County Office Building.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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