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Nassau lawmaker wants increase in tobacco-purchase age

Legis. Carrie Solages addresses concerns during a press

Legis. Carrie Solages addresses concerns during a press conference Friday, April 4, 2014 that communities in western Nassau County will become havens that promote teen smoking due to the Republican decision to block the “Smoking 21” law. Credit: Barry Sloan

A Democratic Nassau County legislator Friday called on majority Republicans to allow a vote on a bill raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21.

Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont), accompanied by Valley Stream school district 24 Superintendent Edward Fale, students and community leaders, expressed concern that young people will come across the county border from New York City to make tobacco purchases.

The city will raise the age to purchase cigarettes to 21 next month.

"This is an effort to make our community safer," Solages said at a news conference in Elmont, a mile from the Queens border. "We do not want to be behind the times."

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) has said she will not call a vote on a bill sponsored by Legis. Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury) to raise Nassau's tobacco purchase age from 19 to 21. Gonsalves says state lawmakers in Albany should deal with the issue to ensure "statewide uniformity."

A GOP legislative spokeswoman said Friday that Gonsalves' position has not changed.

There is no state legislation under consideration this year.

Last month, Suffolk County increased its tobacco purchase age to 21. Suffolk's law goes into effect in January.

Fale said educators have a responsibility to teach students about health hazards. "By allowing the sale of cigarettes at the age lower than our neighboring communities, we are making a drastic mistake," he said.

Elmont Memorial High School senior Derny Fleurima, 17, said teenagers already travel from Queens to Elmont to buy cigarettes to avoid the city's $1.50 excise tax on tobacco products.

"This is a health issue that affects each and everyone of us," Fleurima said.

Solages said area retailers support the Democratic bill, even if it means lost revenue.

"I don't make a lot of money from cigarettes," said Makri Hang Rai, owner of Your Food and Snack Zone, a small grocery store in Elmont near Solages' office.

"The health of my customers is more important."

Some Suffolk retailers have said the county's new law could cost them up to 20 percent of their cigarette business.

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