Essex County Raises Tobacco Purchase Age

Sep 7, 2018

The Essex County, New York Board of Supervisors passed a new local law this week that raises the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

In a weighted vote, the 18-member panel passed Local Law 4 prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 years of age. The prohibition includes cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, rolling papers and smoking paraphernalia.

Tobacco 21 is an effort to raise the purchase age to 21 across the state.  New York Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Julie Hart notes that in addition to New York City, 15 counties have now adopted Tobacco 21 policies.  "This will really make an impact because 95 percent of those who smoke start smoking before the age of 21. The longer that we can delay initiation of smoking the less likely it is that people are going to pick up this deadly addiction. What we’ve seen is that Tobacco 21 has been successful whether it’s urban, suburban or rural areas. Not only do we have places like New York City and Albany that have adopted this but we also have Cattaraugus and Chautauqua.  So it’s a real mix of areas that represent different types of communities including rural communities. We are really excited that Essex County is the first county in the North Country to do this and hopefully others will follow suit."

Essex County Public Health Director Linda Beers says cutting off access prevents youth from ever smoking.  “The reason for legislation for Tobacco 21 is not necessarily to prohibit 18, 19 and 21 year olds from smoking. It is to cut off access to younger people who have friends that can get cigarettes. And if anybody really remembers after you get out of high school, and especially after 21, that  age group does not hang out with 13, 14 and 15 year olds. But 18 year olds because they’re still in high school the majority of them have that peer group.  By changing the smoking age to 21 we’ve absolutely cut off the pipeline to younger people. And that’s really what this legislation was always about.”

Town of Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava voted against the measure, saying he has a number of concerns about it.  “First and foremost being that people that are already buying cigarettes or tobacco products legally that are 18, 19, 20 years old you’re taking one of the most highly addictive substances that are known, nicotine, and now you are just cutting them off.  There was no consideration taken for those people. And then the other issue is that all of the law was based towards the merchants. They face the consequences not the individual that’s under the age of 21 that’s doing the purchase. And then you’ve got this window of when are you legally an adult? Is it 18 or is it 21?  You know if you’re going to make the legal age 21 then make it 21.”

The Essex County law barring sales of tobacco to individuals under 21 goes into effect on January 1, 2019.