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Nassau should raise the age for cigarette sales to 21

Packs of cigarettes are offered for sale at

Packs of cigarettes are offered for sale at a convenience store. Credit: AP / Bobby Calvan

Suffolk County has raised the age for purchases of cigarettes to 21, as have New York City and New Jersey. So have Hempstead and North Hempstead towns. The City of Glen Cove and the Town of Oyster Bay are nearly alone in the region in allowing sales of tobacco products to buyers younger than 21. Nassau County can change that.

Now, finally, Republicans who hold a majority in the Nassau legislature will support a bill to raise the age to 21, a year after they blocked an attempt by Democrats to do the same. The Rules Committee will consider the change on May 7, after Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello said the necessity of limiting vaping and marijuana paraphernalia purchases by minors, which the law would also accomplish, changed his mind about the law.

There is still opposition from Republican legislators who think people older than 18 can make decisions for themselves. That is a compelling argument. We let people vote and serve in the military at that age, and generally consider them full citizens. But we do not let them drink at that age because society has concluded they are often too young to make good decisions about alcohol.

Deciding to start smoking is terribly foolish. The choice by young people to smoke suggests they are not mature enough to understand how dangerous and addictive tobacco is. People who don’t start smoking young usually never start at all. And when people 18 through 20 can’t buy cigarettes, the 16- and 17-year-olds in their social groups can’t bum them.

A 2015 report by the nonprofit National Academy of Medicine projected that raising the age to buy tobacco to 21 could prevent approximately 223,000 premature deaths among Americans born from 2000 to 2019.

Nassau needs to join its neighbors and raise the age.