Just as New York raised the minimum age to buy tobacco and electronic cigarettes to 21 from 18, a local Albany County law that would have banned flavored tobacco sales was defeated.
The raise the age law went into effect Wednesday. Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo says the goal is to prevent addictive cigarette and vaping products from getting to young people. State Assemblyman Kevin Cahill represents the 103rd district: "The idea behind our bill was to prevent the ability of young people from starting smoking in the first instance. It's proven as one of four ways that people will not take up smoking. The other ways include raising the price. Another is to make sure that there is clear awareness of the impact of smoking.”
The Surgeon General says 88% of adult smokers started using tobacco as minors and 90% of those who purchase cigarettes for minors are between 18 and 20 years old.
Elizabeth Hamlin, Director of Advocacy for The American Lung Association in New York, Massachusetts and Vermont, says it’s a game-changer. "Every day, close to 2,500 youth under 18 try their first cigarette. More than 400 of those kids become regular daily smokers. We know now that two-thirds of 10th graders and nearly half of eighth graders say it's easy to get cigarettes. The National Academy of Medicine reports that younger kids often rely on older friends and classmates and their peers to buy tobacco products. So, New York's law raising the age from 18 to 21 is expected to greatly reduce the number of high school students who have that easy access to tobacco products."
The New York Department of Health says nearly 40 percent of 12th grade students and 27 percent of high school students are now using e-cigarettes. They say the increase is largely driven by flavored e-liquids.
Flavored tobacco and vape products would have been banned from Albany County store shelves had Local Law E passed. Forty organizations hounded county lawmakers to curb what they say is an epidemic of youth addicted to nicotine, but those legislators couldn't produce the 20 votes Local Law E needed. The measure faced tough going out of the gate, revised many times since it was introduced in March. Legislator Sam Fein voted against it. "It was a very difficult decision for me because I felt very strongly that we should ban the flavored e-cigarettes because I think that's a real crisis with the companies marketing toward children. But I felt that it went too far in banning especially menthol cigarettes. Statistics show that African-Americans who smoke cigarettes prefer menthol about 80 percent to 90 percent of the time, and I think banning something that's a preference of one group of people isn't the right thing to do."
Debora Brown Johnson is President of the Albany branch of the NAACP: "We supported Local Law E and our concern was that Big Tobacco was at it again with their lies and exploitation of the African-American community. And that for decades the tobacco industry has targeted black and brown neighborhoods with the sale of menthol cigarettes. We paid the greatest price as a result of this predatory marketing, and we were hoping that Albany County would pass the law."
The Cuomo administration has pushed to outlaw flavored e-cigarettes, but a court has blocked that ban for now. County lawmakers have vowed to revisit Local Law E in the future.