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Tobacco age bill gets green-lighted

The age to purchase both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes is being raised from 18 to 21 after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Tobacco 21 law this week.
July 19, 2019 07:06 pm

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation raising the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The new law applies to both traditional tobacco products and e-cigarettes.

“New York is taking aggressive action to stamp out smoking among teens and children, but tobacco and e-cigarette use still persists thanks to irresponsible corporate marketing campaigns targeting young people,” Cuomo said. “By raising the smoking age from 18 to 21, we can stop cigarettes and e-cigarettes from getting into the hands of young people in the first place and prevent an entire generation of New Yorkers from forming costly and potentially deadly addictions.”

The bill will take effect in November, and makes New York the 17th state in the nation to raise the age to 21.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

E-cigarette use, in particular, is rising among young people, with 20.8% of them using e-cigarettes, compared to 8.1% using traditional cigarettes, according to the CDC website.

A study by the U.S. Surgeon General indicated e-cigarette use among high school students rose 78% from 2017 to 2018.

Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia-Greene Counties Community Engagement Coordinator Lisa Heintz said e-cigarettes and vaping have seen a sharp rise in use among teenagers. From 2014 to 2018, there was a 160% increase in high school students using e-cigarettes.

Young people between the ages of 18 and 21 purchasing tobacco products for younger teens in many cases help them start the habit, Heintz said.

“Too many younger teens get cigarettes and vapes from older students who buy them legally,” Heintz said. “This law will go a long way to stopping that, especially in schools.”

Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, voted for the legislation, but said she wants to see more done to combat the skyrocketing rates of vaping.

“Raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 is an important step in keeping tobacco away from young people, and I was proud to support the legislation to do so this year,” Barrett said. “However, we still must do more to combat the epidemic of teen vaping. These products, with their candy-like flavors and marketing, have significantly increased nicotine use among teenagers after decades of decline, and it is harming young people’s developing brains. I’ll keep working with my Assembly colleagues to craft additional legislation to address this public health crisis.”

Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, voted for the bill — dubbed “Tobacco 21” — when it was in the Assembly.

“My vote on raising the tobacco age to 21 speaks for itself,” Tague said. “We need to be encouraging good decision-making in our young folks. Setting the age at 21 will help to pull tobacco products out of high schools and limit the spread through social circles in that age group. I’m always in favor of creating a healthy and productive environment for our students and young people, and this is no different.”

State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, said the legislation is a bipartisan effort to protect the health and safety of young people.

“Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death, which is why this law was so necessary,” Jordan said. “I have heard a strong outcry from school districts and parents about the urgent need to raise the age for tobacco use, especially as it relates to vaping. On this issue, our message needs to be clear, nonpartisan and unambiguous: Tobacco use is a dead end.”

Raising the age to purchase tobacco products is just common sense, state Sen. George Amedore Jr., R-46, said.

“With the negative health effects caused by tobacco use, it is common sense that we make every effort possible to discourage tobacco use among our next generation of young people,” Amedore said.

Assemblyman Jake Ashby supported the intent of the legislation but voted against the bill because it did not provide a carve-out for military personnel on base, according to a spokesman. Ashby was pushing for an amendment that would maintain the age at 18 on military bases.

Representatives from the American Cancer Society called the new law a “life-saving measure.”

“Gov. Cuomo and the state Legislature have returned New York state to a position of national leadership in standing up to Big Tobacco to save lives and protect health,” said Julie Hart, New York’s government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “This measure directly addresses the stark statistic that 95% of smokers start before 21. ‘Tobacco 21’ is a no-brainer and will help protect young people from a deadly addiction.”

The legislation is expected to decrease the rate of tobacco use among teens by 12%, according to the American Lung Association.

“We already know that adolescents and young adults have proven to be uniquely vulnerable to the effects of nicotine and nicotine addiction, making this legislation an important, lifesaving measure,” said Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association. “With the rise of easily concealable devices and fruit- and candy-flavored tobacco products appealing to youth, Tobacco 21 is more important now than ever before in order to protect children, reduce smoking rates, save on healthcare costs and prevent tobacco-related death and disease.”

Other states with similar Tobacco 21 policies include Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Maine, Washington, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, Utah, Connecticut, Texas, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Vermont and the District of Columbia.