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Hempstead Town proposes increasing age to 21 to buy tobacco products

A man smokes a cigarette in New Orleans,

A man smokes a cigarette in New Orleans, April 21, 2015. Photo Credit: AP

The Hempstead Town Board will hold a public hearing on April 25 to hear residents’ thoughts on raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 in the town.

If the change is approved, the town could become the second in Nassau County, after the Town of North Hempstead, to raise the age to 21. Suffolk County and New York City have already passed similar laws restricting tobacco sales to those age 21 or older. Nassau County’s tobacco sales age is 19. The state age for legally purchasing tobacco products is 18.

The Hempstead Town Board proposed the legislation during its meeting on April 4 and could vote on it as early as May 9. Town Supervisor Anthony Santino, Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby and Councilman Anthony D’Esposito announced the proposal on April 3 at a news conference at William S. Covert Elementary School in South Hempstead.

The town’s law would ban the sale of cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and powdered tobacco, liquid nicotine and other products, as well as herbal cigarettes, rolling papers, smoking paraphernalia and e-cigarettes to people younger than 21, according to a news release.

The law would require businesses to post signs saying that the sale of such items to people younger than 21 is prohibited. If they violate the act, business owners could receive fines as much as $1,500 and possibly lose their licenses to sell tobacco products., the release stated.

“This new legislation will help ‘clear the air’ for the youth of our township and prevent them from having access to tobacco at an early age,” Santino said in a statement. “The health of our children comes first, and we’re doing our part to help them lead healthy lives into adulthood.”

Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, said store owners agree with the objective of getting fewer minors to smoke. But strategies like that proposed in Hempstead — when it’s easy for youths to obtain cigarettes through older friends and family, the black market or at Indian reservations on Long Island — “won’t work.”

“Just waving a wand and increasing the purchase age doesn’t change any of these realities,” Calvin said.

He noted that tobacco possession and use by minors isn’t prohibited — just the sale of it is.

Calvin said convenience store owners would support the legislation if it actually meant fewer youths would smoke.

“If it won’t work, why should we have to sacrifice those sales?” he said.

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