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Nassau bill to raise age to buy tobacco to 21 advances

Cigarettes are sold at PK Smoke Shop &

Cigarettes are sold at PK Smoke Shop & Card Store in Long Beach on Dec. 6, 2017. Credit: Barry Sloan

Buyers of tobacco products would have to be at least 21 years old, under a bill passed unanimously by a Nassau legislative committee Monday.

The measure, which Democrats had proposed repeatedly in the past only to run up against Republican opposition, will go to the full 19-member legislature, where it is expected to pass, majority Republicans have said. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has said she will sign the bill into law.

The update to the tobacco law would bring Nassau in line with neighboring New York City and Suffolk County, where the age to purchase tobacco products is 21.

The legislation would primarily impact the Town of Oyster Bay because North Hempstead and Hempstead also have raised the age. Current county law allows those 19 years and older to buy tobacco products.

“I am heartened by the Republican majority recognizing that Tobacco 21 legislation is necessary and they have put it on the agenda. However, I am saddened by the fact they have waited so long to refile this piece of legislation I introduced a year ago in virtually identical form,” said Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview).

The legislation first was proposed by Legis. Judith Jacobs, a Democrat, who died in September 2016.

Legis. Rose Walker (R-Hicksville), chairwoman of the legislature’s Health Committee, said the popularity of vaping and e-cigarettes among Long Island high schoolers convinced her that raising the age was essential.

Under the measure, Nassau would have the authority to fine convenience stores and other retailers who sell tobacco products to anyone under 21. The law would cover cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, herbal cigarettes, liquid nicotine, electronic cigarettes, rolling papers and other smoking paraphernalia.

Fines would range from $300 to $1,500, and the county Department of Health would enforce the law.

“Nassau County is one step closer to helping young people not start on a path of nicotine addiction. Plus, nicotine impairs brain development in youth and young adults, so it’s imperative to reduce tobacco and e-cigarette consumption to protect Nassau County’s young people.” said Karen Blumenfeld, executive director of Global Advisors on Smokefree Policy, a nonprofit based in New Jersey.

Also Tuesday, the Rules committee unanimously approved a $49,800 contract with a Lake Success law firm that already has begun representing the county and its election board in civil rights litigation against a Long Beach candidate.

Four Republicans and three Democrats voted to advance the Curran administration’s request to hire the law firm — Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Formato, Ferrara, Wolf & Carone LLP — in a lawsuit filed by former Long Beach City Council candidate Runnie Myles.

Myles’ suit alleges the county, the Board of Elections and Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs violated Myles’ civil rights by keeping him off the ballot for city council in 2017.

Legislative Republicans and Democrats have argued for greater scrutiny of the process for hiring outside legal counsel.

“Why choose this firm over the other firms?” asked Legis. Steven Rhoads (R-Bellmore).

Brian Libert, a lawyer in the county attorney’s office, said the law firm was selected from a group of firms with similar qualifications. He noted the expertise of civil rights attorney Amy Marion, a partner at Abrams Fensterman.

Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), the minority leader, said: “Normally it is preferred that the county attorney conduct these types of cases with in-house counsel but in this case since the county attorney has a conflict of interest we have to pursue a contract with Abrams Fensterman.”

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