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Nassau GOP backs boost in age to buy tobacco

Nassau County Legis. Richard Nicolello during a legislative

Nassau County Legis. Richard Nicolello during a legislative meeting on March 26 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Majority Republicans on the Nassau County Legislature have proposed a bill to raise the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 from 18 — a year after blocking an attempt by Democrats to update the local law.

The GOP legislation would primarily impact the Town of Oyster Bay, bringing it into line with the county’s two other towns, North Hempstead and Hempstead. New York City and Suffolk County also have raised the age to 21. The Nassau legislature’s Rules Committee is scheduled to consider the bill May 7.

The change in position of county Republicans came as a surprise to some Democratic lawmakers who for years complained the GOP had thwarted their efforts to raise the age.

Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said Republicans merely are trying to make Nassau “basically uniform with what they’ve done in other jurisdictions. What tipped the scales for us was the vaping component, particularly with regards to vaping in the schools and as use for marijuana paraphernalia.”

Nicolello, who became the legislature’s presiding officer Jan. 5, said some GOP members still are reluctant to support the bill, saying 19- and 20-year-olds “have the ability to make decisions for themselves.”

Under the measure, the county could 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, according to a copy of the bill. The law would be enforced by the county’s Department of Health.

“If we can save one life it is worth it — especially because we are the only municipality that doesn’t have it,” said Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview). “This was a passion of Judy Jacobs, and I introduced it last year to continue that push Judy started.”

Democratic Legis. Jacobs, who died in September 2016, had tried several times to raise the tobacco age. But the GOP majority declined to hold hearings or allow a vote on her bill.

Drucker held a news conference last April that included health experts and a representative from a convenience store group who supported the measure.

Now, he said, “I suppose there’s an effort to show there’s more collegiality in the legislature, on both sides of the aisle. It is absolutely essential this bill gets passed.”

Nicolello said “there really isn’t a political equation. We are just looking at it again with fresh eyes,” he said.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Baldwin Democrat who served in the legislature, said Friday she would “enthusiastically” sign the bill.

“I’m very happy that the legislature is moving forward on this bill,” Curran said. “I know that Judy Jacobs is smiling down from heaven — this was her baby.”

Since Drucker introduced his bill last year, the City of Long Beach, the Village of Baxter Estates, and Port Washington, a hamlet, have passed similar laws.

More than a dozen other municipalities throughout New York have what is known as the “Tobacco 21” law as well.

State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) are sponsoring a bill in the State Legislature to raise the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 in New York.

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