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A Suffolk County bill that would raise the age to purchase tobacco products from 19 to 21 cleared a legislative committee Thursday on a split vote, leading up to a decisive vote at the Suffolk Legislature on Tuesday.
Opponents and advocates debated the proper role of government, particularly in regulating those over 18.
The bill’s sponsor, Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), said he believes in personal freedoms but “I believe we as a government have a protective function.”
He said society and government sets ages for people to drive, vote, and rent cars, that often depend on who’s in office.
Opponents said the county was overstepping its role.
“You are not God,” said Joan Andersen, of Sayville, a convenience store owner and hospice nurse. “I will lose business. You will lose money. And our rights will be diminished.”
Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) joined Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) in voting against the bill.
“Adults have the right to make decisions for themselves,” said Browning, who caucuses with Democrats. “I think government needs to stop overreaching some times.”
Republican caucus members have opposed the bill, but they only make up six of the 18 members. Both opponents and supporters expect Tuesday’s vote to be close.
“We’re still going to fight it,” said Kevin Beyer, the president of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association and owner of Performance Fuels in Smithtown. He said raising the age would have an effect on his business, though not a devastating one.
A Nassau County lawmaker this week introduced a bill that would raise the age to purchase cigarettes there to 21.
Legis. Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) said even at 19 and 20, “it’s an age group still susceptible to making bad decision. And it's a decision that sticks with them for rest of their life” because of how addictive it is.
Pat Bishop-Kelly, a member of the Suffolk County Board of Health, said she was “very pleased” that the bill passed out of committee. Raising the age would be another tool for the county to lower smoking rates, she said.