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Lawmakers consider bills to raise smoking age

Some New York state and Westchester County lawmakers are looking to put the same age restrictions on cigarettes and other tobacco products as has been on alcohol for more than 30 years.

Late last month, seven Westchester County Democrats proposed a bill that would raise the age limit countywide to buy tobacco from 18 years old—the minimum age nationally—to 21 years old. The amendment to the county’s existing tobacco law would also add electronic cigarettes to the list of products which are restricted until that age. The age change would also apply to the sales of smoking-related paraphernalia such as pipes and rolling papers.

Westchester County and New York state lawmakers have each proposed bills that would push the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Photo courtesy Flickr.com

During an April 24 county Board of Legislators meeting, the bill was referred to the public health and safety, legislation and budget committees.

County Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, a Hastings-on-Hudson Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, said, “When you look at the science, the science is irrefutable at this point.” She added that the law was aimed to delay a smoker’s first cigarette as long as possible, allowing the brain to fully develop.

“As neighboring counties have started passing it, it really seemed to be an idea whose time has come,” Shimsky said.

If the bill makes its way out of committees and is ultimately approved by the full county board, Westchester would follow 10 other counties in the state that have raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21. Two of those counties made the change in the past two weeks. And in Nassau and Onondaga counties, the minimum age was raised to 19. However, Nassau lawmakers are considering further pushing their minimum age to 21.

Meanwhile, New York state may look to join a short list of other states that requires tobacco buyers to be 21. A bill proposed earlier this year passed in the state Senate Health Committee in April, and is currently before the Assembly Health Committee as well.

Only two other states in the U.S.—Hawaii and California—restrict tobacco sales to people less than 21 years old. Several other states, including New Jersey, have a statewide minimum age of 19.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, almost 90 percent of cigarette smokers begin by age 18, and nearly all smokers begin by age 26. And while the CDC reported that the percentage of middle and high school students who smoke declined from 2011 to 2015, it also said the use of electronic cigarettes in those populations has increased nearly tenfold over that period of time.

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