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North Hempstead raises age for tobacco purchase to 21

A sign noting the age for buying tobacco

A sign noting the age for buying tobacco products is displayed at a Mobil gas station in Roslyn on Nov. 17, 2016. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

North Hempstead’s youth are about to find it tougher to purchase cigarettes in the town, thanks to a new law that raises the age for tobacco sales to 21.

The town board voted unanimously 7-0 Tuesday in favor of the law, which makes it illegal for individuals under 21 to purchase tobacco products, liquid nicotine and electronic cigarettes.

Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said on Thursday the law was about protecting young people from the adverse effects of smoking.

“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to encourage our young people not to smoke and to make it harder for them to have access,” Bosworth said.

In drafting the law, which goes into effect in March, town officials consulted several anti-smoking advocacy groups and cited multiple reports about adolescent smoking. A 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine, now the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, found that raising the age for tobacco sales to 21 would significantly improve public health, reduce the smoking rate by 12 percent, and cut smoking-related deaths by 10 percent.

Town officials said they wanted to do their part to reduce youth tobacco use. Over the past few months, the town board has increased its oversight on smoking, first restricting vape stores and hookah bars to industrial zones and most recently attempting to prohibit colorful smoking advertisements.

Bosworth said the new law was designed to have “teeth”: code enforcement officers will ensure compliance, and violation penalties for business owners start at $300.

The town follows in the steps of Suffolk County and New York City, which also passed similar laws in recent years. In Nassau County, cigarettes cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 19. In New York State, the legal sale age for tobacco products is 18.

Bosworth dedicated North Hempstead’s legislation to Nassau County Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), a longtime advocate of stricter smoking laws who died in September.

Attempts by Democratic Nassau legislators to raise the county’s smoking age to 21 have long stalled, with opponents saying that the legal sale age should be established by the state.

“I am hoping that Nassau does consider this,” Bosworth said. “It’s been successful in so many places and it would be nice to think that we were all in this to protect our young people’s health.”

Though more and more municipalities across the country are raising the age for tobacco sales, some say that it isn’t quite the panacea against youth smoking it’s touted to be.

Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, said that the law wouldn’t curb adolescent smoking rates because of the myriad ways that young people can obtain cigarettes. The law also fails to penalize minors possessing cigarettes, Calvin said.

“Increasing the purchase age at licensed tax-collecting retail stores like ours is not going to put a dent in the youth smoking problem,” Calvin said. “It only nibbles around the edges of it.”


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