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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo expected to sign bill raising smoking age to 21

The measure, passed by both the State Senate and Assembly, would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 years old in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, shown in New York on

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, shown in New York on Feb. 25, has signaled he will sign the bill. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

 ALBANY — The State Senate gave final legislative approval on Monday to a measure that will prohibit the sale of tobacco products, herbal cigarettes and tobacco vaping products to anyone under 21 years old in New York.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has signaled he will sign the bill, which will raise the legal age for smoking from 18 years old.

“We know the longer you can keep young people from smoking the more likely you will prevent smoking, which we know leads to illness and death,” State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), a longtime sponsor of the bill, said in an interview. “It doesn’t really get any more complicated than that.”

Each day 2,000 Americans under 18 years old smoke their first cigarette and each day more than 300 young people become daily cigarette smokers, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Enforcement of the state measure is aimed at the retailer, not the tobacco user. 

The bill requires warning signs at retailers to include the new minimum age for purchase; prohibits the free distribution of tobacco products in promotions and elsewhere to anyone under 21 years old; and imposes fines of up to $2,500 for retailers and possible loss of retail tobacco sales certificates for selling to anyone under 21 years old.

Some opponents called the measure discriminatory against people who are legally allowed to marry, join the military service and vote.

“Eighteen-, 19-, and 20-year-olds shouldn’t be treated like second-class adults," said the New York Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit research and public education group.

NYPIRG also expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the bill, given booming online sales of cigarettes. 

“It’s unfair and, to add insult to injury, the policy won’t work,” NYPIRG said.

But Savino recalled, “I was 12 when I started smoking and by 14 was regularly smoking a pack a day. What changed it for me was I watched my grandfather die from lung cancer, and then my father when he was 53, and then my mother.”

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