Not surprisingly, local public health officials are applauding Gov. Andrew Cuomo for signing legislation that raises the minimum age for the sale of tobacco and electronic cigarette products from 18 to 21.
“We could not be happier that the governor signed this bill,” said Mary Beer, Ontario County’s director of public health. “The smoking rates in this county continue to be too high, even though they have been decreasing over the past decade, and I am greatly concerned the rate is going to go back up due to the vaping of nicotine, especially by youth.”
Cuomo signed the legislation, approved earlier by the state Senate and Assembly, on Tuesday. It will take effect in mid-November.
“This is a major victory for public health over tobacco,” said Vickie Swinehart, Seneca County’s director of public health. “Despite our efforts, tobacco continues to be the leading preventable cause of death in the state. The increased popularity and marketing of nicotine delivery devices has prompted resurgence in smoking and the use of e-cigarettes among teens, both locally and statewide.”
Richard Kerr, owner of Baroody’s Cigar Store in Geneva, doesn’t believe the law will impact his business.
“It might hurt a little bit, but most of my customers are over 21,” he said. “It might hurt the vape shops more.”
Mark Johnson, owner of Concord Vapes in Penn Yan, said time will tell on how the law impacts his business. While Johnson is not strongly opposed to the law, he said government differs on classifying someone as an adult, whether it comes to joining the military, voting, smoking, or drinking alcohol.
“I expect a small hit, especially with Keuka College students. Now only seniors will be able to buy,” Johnson said. “If the government considers you an adult at 18, you should be able to do adult things.”
Diane Devlin, Wayne County’s director of public health, applauded state officials for backing the “Tobacco 21” movement.
“With the adult smoking rate being 24.5 percent in Wayne County, any measure that limits access to tobacco and electronic cigarette products for those under 21 is a win,” Devlin said. “There are many studies that show how nicotine adversely affects the brain of teenagers and young adults up to the age of 25.”
Devlin added that a recent survey showed 25 percent of high school seniors said they have used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days.
“With the trend of teenagers using electronic cigarettes more than tobacco products, it is great to see these products are also included in this law,” Devlin said.
Last August, the Ontario County Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly defeated a proposed local law that would have raised the tobacco sale age. Several supervisors said it should be a state issue.
Speaking against the law at a board meeting was Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores. He doesn’t believe the state law will stop teens from smoking.
“Don’t expect underage consumption to drop, because the vast majority of teen smokers get tobacco or e-cigarettes from social sources, not stores where the purchase age is enforced,” Calvin said. “I wonder if local health departments will enforce the 21 purchase age at the Cayuga Indian Nation’s smoke shops.”
While enforcement in Ontario, Wayne and Yates counties falls to the state Department of Health’s regional office, the Seneca County Public Health Department is primarily responsible for enforcing the new law in that county.
Swinehart said her staff will do compliance checks among local tobacco retailers to make sure tobacco and e-cigarette products are not being sold to anyone under 21 come November, but she did not say whether that enforcement applies to Cayuga Nation sales.