Lawmakers Continue to Debate Upping Tobacco Age

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Lawmakers Continue to Debate Upping Tobacco Age


SUFFOLK COUNTY, N.Y. -- Efforts to increase the legal age to buy tobacco products are spreading across the country, with Suffolk County, N.Y., just the latest to make the switch to 21.

In a vote Tuesday night, the Suffolk County Legislature approved a bill that raises the legal age from 19 to 21. The bill prohibits stores in the county from selling cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, herbal cigarettes, rolling papers and pipes, as well as e-cigarettes to anyone under 21. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, according to Newsday.

Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) sponsored the bill, which passed by a 10-to-8 vote.

The decision was applauded by health advocates. However, others -- including convenience store owners who said the move would hurt their business -- spoke against the measure. There were also concerns that the bill restricts the rights of legal adults, according to the newspaper.

Jack Rugen, who owns a 7-Eleven store in Rocky Point, N.Y., said his outlet sells about $70 a day in tobacco products to 19- and 20-year-olds. Rugen also has criticized the law, since there will be no penalty for those under 21 who are smoking or buying cigarettes -- only for the retailers caught selling the cigarettes, according to the report.

Minority Leader Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) argued that by age 19 consumers can make their own decisions:

"Nineteen-year-olds have a bundle of rights -- they can vote, they can marry, they can enter contracts and serve in the military -- but to say they don't have the innate ability to make a choice about tobacco consumption gravely concerns me as overreaching," he said.

Spencer introduced his bill after the Suffolk County Board of Health recommended raising the age for tobacco sales in November. Suffolk County's new law imposes fines of up to $1,000 for businesses that sell tobacco to customers younger than 21 on a first offense and up to $1,500 for a second offense.

Across the country, Colorado lawmakers are also considering increasing the legal age to buy tobacco products in that state to 21. The House Finance Committee is scheduled to vote on the proposal Wednesday afternoon. The bill would have to clear the full House and then the Senate before it could become law.

Measures to up the legal age have picked up steam over the past few months. Council members in New York City passed an ordinance increasing the age from 18 to 21 in the five boroughs this past November.

However, the move is not exactly sweeping the nation. Just last week, the Vermont House Human Services Committee rejected a bid to boost the age from 18 to 21. Additionally, a similar proposal before the Utah State Senate failed by a 12-to-16 vote in early March, as CSNews Online previously reported.