HOPEWELL — Ontario County could join the growing list of municipalities in the state that have raised the age to buy tobacco products.
A public hearing on a proposed local law to raise the age from 18 to 21 is scheduled for Thursday’s Ontario County Board of Supervisors meeting. It starts at 6:30 p.m. at the safety training facility on County Road 48.
Mary Beer, the county’s public health director and a backer of the proposed law, said Ontario would be the 14th county in the state to raise the age if the measure is approved. In 2014, Suffolk County and New York City were the first municipalities to raise the age to 21.
Chautauqua, Albany, Cortland, Schenectady and Cattaraugus counties followed suit in 2016, and Sullivan and Tompkins counties did so in 2017. Rockland, Onondaga, Ulster, Westchester and Nassau counties raised the age this year.
Beer said the state Legislature has not increased the age despite calls to do so over the past several years. The current effort is similar to counties banning smoking in bars and restaurants before it became state law.
“Sometimes, counties take the lead before the state decides to follow suit,” she said.
Beer said the local law would further the goals of the state’s tobacco use prevention and control program. The law says smoking is the most preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S. and New York, killing more than 26,000 New Yorkers annually.
The law also says adolescent brains are more vulnerable to the effects of nicotine, and the younger age of initiation is strongly associated with greater nicotine dependence.
The proposed law says almost one in five high school seniors is a current cigarette smoker, and underage users rely primarily on friends between the ages of 18 and 20 to get tobacco.
The law would apply to all tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and vaping. According to a state survey, the number of youths who have tried or currently use e-cigarettes doubled from 2014 to 2016.
Fines for businesses that violate the proposed law would be between $300 and $1,000 for a first offense, and $500 and $1,500 for subsequent violations.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 95 percent of adult smokers began before they were 21. A recent poll of New Yorkers found that about 75 percent supported raising the legal age to buy tobacco.