A sign about the Town of North Hempstead's new law...

A sign about the Town of North Hempstead's new law prohibiting the sale of tobacco to those under 21 hangs on the wall at Matador Cigars in Roslyn Heights on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. Credit: Barry Sloan

The legal age to purchase tobacco has been raised to 21 years old in the town of North Hempstead, effective Wednesday.

The law, which was passed 7-0 by the town board in November, affects the sale of tobacco products, liquid nicotine and electronic cigarettes.

Town officials said the law is intended to protect young people’s health and to make a dent in lowering teen smoking rates.

“The hope is that the legislation will limit the exposure of our youth to smoking,” said Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth. “We felt very strongly this would be a good step forward.”

With a host of municipalities recently passing local laws, the legal tobacco sale age varies across New York State, where the minimum sale age is 18. Customers must be 19 years old in Nassau, and 21 in New York City, Albany and Suffolk counties and other areas upstate to purchase cigarettes.

More than half of the state forbids the sale of tobacco to customers under 21, according to Kevin Flaherty, an advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

North Hempstead’s law applies only to unincorporated areas of the town, not its villages. Businesses will be required to post a sign outlining the ban in a visible area of their stores. Penalties will be steep for violations: a minimum of $300 for a first-time offense and at least a $500 fine for subsequent offenses.

Business owners had mixed opinions about the law. Harry Patel, owner of Lakeville Stationery in New Hyde Park, said he supports the law but expects his store’s sales will take a hit.

“Overall, it’s not bad,” said Patel, 39. “I’m supporting the 21 law. I don’t like to sell to underage anyway,” he said, adding that the store’s employees have been informed about the law. “The young person needs to stop that tobacco; I’m 100 percent supporting that.”

Boris Grossman, who owns Matador Cigars in Roslyn Heights, said the ban is “ridiculous” because underage smokers can get cigarettes in other villages or towns.

“When somebody wants something they’re going to get it,” Grossman said. “Why are you going to do it in piecemeal in townships? . . . Let the state do it.”

Town officials and advocates said they recognize the law is no panacea but still hope it will curb youth smoking, especially e-cigarette use.

From 2011 to 2015, e-cigarette use by middle and high school students increased more than tenfold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The CDC has stated that use of tobacco by youths in any form is unsafe.

“We have to start somewhere,” said Councilmember Dina De Giorgio. “I’m glad we’re doing it and taking the lead on it in North Hempstead . . . Maybe some of the villages within our jurisdiction will get on board with us.”

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