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Legislature Raises the Age for Tobacco Sale and Purchase in Tompkins County

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Legislature Raises the Age for Tobacco Sale and Purchase in Tompkins County

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Tompkins County Legislature has adopted a new Local Law that raises to 21 the legal age for tobacco sale and purchase in Tompkins County. The vote was 9-5, with Legislators Dan Klein, Mike Sigler, Peter Stein, Will Burbank, and Carol Chock voting no.

The new “T-21” law mirrors existing public health law, but raises the legal age for sale and purchase from 18 to 21. The law notes that the County has substantial interest in reducing the number of all individuals of all ages who use cigarettes and other tobacco products, and a particular interest in protecting adolescents from tobacco dependence and the illnesses and premature death associated with tobacco use.

In public comment before the Legislature’s consideration, seven people spoke, nearly all urging passage of the law, many noting that a raise in the legal purchase age to 21 will help reduce exposure of people younger than age 18 to tobacco. In their comments in an hour of discussion before the vote, Legislators acknowledged the variety of views on the issue and thanked those who had voiced their views to the Legislature. Health and Human Services Chair Anna Kelles, whose committee brought forth the legislation, stressed that the law will not criminalize youth for using or purchasing, but levies a fine for those who are selling to those younger than 21. Several Legislators said they had struggled with the issue—Legislator Rich John, whose District 4 includes a lot of students and much of the downtown business district, called it one of the more difficult votes he’s had to consider as a legislator, balancing the issues of freedom and business impact with the health effects. Legislator Mike Sigler again stressed the rights of 18 to 20-year-olds, who are at the age that society considers an adult. Legislator Stein said he has strong feelings about not making decisions for adults, and expressed doubt about how much of an impact the law would have. While he expressed continued concern with the law, Legislator Burbank said, “This is one case where I will not be truly unhappy to lose…I believe the positive effects will be there.” Legislator Carol Chock once again unsuccessfully urged a change of wording on prohibitions regarding shisha, which she regards as “overreach.” Legislator Jim Dennis first said he really wasn’t sure how he would vote, but ultimately decided in favor, even though he still had doubts, saying he hoped that young people will listen to adults and think about this. Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne said she has issues with the law, but would support it, stressing that there must be an educational plan that addresses potential social factors that may arise for youth related to the age change.

Chair Michael Lane thanked the Health Department for bringing forward the proposed legislation and for all of its work on the complex issue, saying that he believes that New York State is examining the possibility of raising the age statewide is because New York City and several counties have passed local “T-21” laws.