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Nassau lawmkakers vote to set 21 as age for tobacco purchases

The unanimous vote for the bill drew cheers from physicians, educators and parents in the audience.

The Nassau County legislature, seen on March 26

The Nassau County legislature, seen on March 26 in Mineola, voted unanimously to ban people under the age of 21 from purchasing tobacco. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Sales of tobacco products to buyers younger than 21 will be banned throughout Nassau County under legislation passed unanimously by county lawmakers Wednesday.

Passage of the bill — which advocates said was at least 10 years in the making — drew cheers from the dozens of physicians, parents, educators and health care representatives in the audience who had addressed lawmakers passionately about the dangers of nicotine addiction.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, has said she will sign the legislation. The law will go into effect 60 days after she signs it.

“This is a historic moment for those of us who have been working on this for over a decade,” said Dr. Shetal Shah, a pediatrician from Syosset and vice president of the Long Island Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents 1,400 pediatricians.

“It has taken Nassau much longer to accept the widespread public support and overwhelming health evidence than its neighbors in other municipalities,” Shah said.

The measure will bring Nassau into line with Suffolk County and New York City, which have similar laws. Practically, the Nassau measure will affect only Oyster Bay Town, as Hempstead and North Hempstead already prohibit tobacco sales to buyers younger than 21.

Democrats in the county legislature repeatedly had proposed changing Nassau’s local law over the years, but were thwarted by Republican opposition. It was first introduced by Legis. Judy Jacobs, a Democrat, who died in September 2016.

Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview), who now occupies Jacobs’ seat, filed it again in 2017.

Last month, presiding officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said legislators were “taking a second look” at the legislation. The bill that passed Wednesday was sponsored by all 11 members of the GOP majority, and was similar to Drucker’s.

“I am extraordinarily gratified that the Republican majority has finally seen clearly. All of the testimony on the reduction of deaths shows that this shouldn’t be a political issue,” Drucker said after the vote. “We’ve been waiting years to get this done.”

The Nassau bill would change the legal age to buy all tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars, electronic cigarettes, chewing tobacco, rolling papers, herbal cigarettes, liquid nicotine and smoking paraphernalia from 19 to 21 years old.

Fines ranging from $300 to $1,500 would be levied against retailers who break the law, which the county Health Department will enforce.

Also Wednesday, Nassau legislators voted unanimously to prohibit the sale and use handheld sparklers in the county.

Sparkling devices — popular during July Fourth and at catering venue events — caused 11,000 injuries, Assistant Chief Fire Marshall John Priest told lawmakers.

The decision allows Nassau County to opt out of a state provision that allows some counties to sell sparklers during certain times of the year.

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