ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved legislation on Tuesday, July 16 to raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 in the state for the purchase of tobacco and e-cigarette products.
In an official statement, Cuomo said, that the state is taking “aggressive action to stamp out smoking among teens and children, but tobacco and e-cigarette use still persists thanks to irresponsible corporate marketing campaigns targeting young people. By raising the smoking age from 18 to 21, we can stop cigarettes and e-cigarettes from getting into the hands of young people in the first place and prevent an entire generation of New Yorkers from forming costly and potentially deadly addictions.”
While the new legislation goes into effect statewide “120 days after becoming law,” there are already numerous counties that have established the minimum age at 21, including Albany, Schenectady and Ulster. According to the state Department of Health, state law mandates that all tobacco products must be located out of reach from customers inside stores and placed behind the counter or in a locked cabinet, and self-service displays are not allowed.
In an emailed statement, Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy wrote that he “knew [he] was doing the right thing” when he had signed a law in 2016 that increased the minimum age to 21 for tobacco and e-cigarette purchases in Albany County, recognizing it was among the first counties to do so.
“Smoking kills and we are working to improve public health,” he also wrote. “We all know that tobacco is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States and it is our responsibility to do what we can to help spread the message that smoking is a dead end. It’s important that the entire state is now dedicated to protecting kids and young adults from all tobacco products.”
Elizabeth Whalen, the Albany County Department of Health commissioner, wrote in an email where she recognized that not allowing people aged below 21 to access tobacco products is “an important public health prevention strategy.”
Adding that an adolescent’s brain is more vulnerable to getting addicted and that nicotine addiction is mostly lifelong, her department acknowledged that adolescents and young adults are mainly driving the sales of electronic nicotine products — high school students in the state “use these products at rates five times higher than adults.”
Whalen brought up a study done and published in January 2019 by the state Dept. of Health’s Bureau of Tobacco Control where cigarette smoking among high school students rose from 4.3 percent in 2016 to 4.8 percent in 2018; this was the first increase in the state since 2000.
Also, high school students’ e-cigarette usage increased from 10.5 percent to 27.4 percent, from 2014 to 2018. It also determined that e-cigarettes were the most popular tobacco product among American youth as opposed to cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco and hookah. For more information, visit www.health.ny.gov/prevention/tobacco_control/reports/statshots/volume12/n1_electronic_sig_use_increase.pdf.
Bethlehem Town Supervisor David VanLuven wrote in an email that while the legislation applies statewide, he expressed support for any “steps to make it more difficult for children and young adults to access products.” He added that “decades of medical studies [show] that tobacco products cause serious health problems, and children and young adults are particularly vulnerable.”
As Bethlehem is currently undergoing a six-month moratorium regarding vape and medical marijuana stores in town, VanLuven acknowledged that the new state legislation “is one more piece of information for the town to consider when assessing our codes about where it is appropriate to site vape shops, and where it isn’t.”
In emailed responses, Theresa Petrone Butts, chair of the Capital Region Advisory Board of the American Heart Association, wrote that this “exciting” legislation will help discourage kids from becoming addicted to tobacco and e-cigarette products; she acknowledged that children’s older friends have often provided them but the legislation would address that concern.
Adding that the legislation would save more lives in the state, Butts wrote that “there won’t be enough prevention programs and resources until children stop picking up cigarettes and e-cigarettes.”
According to her, the state’s Tobacco Control Program receives around $39 million in annual funding but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends around $203 million in funding instead. “We need to have it fully funded so that we have the resources and programs necessary to reduce, and ultimately prevent, nicotine addiction. With the growing rates of e-cigarettes, we need these funds more than ever,” she wrote, also expressing support for Cuomo’s passed legislation.
For more information, visit www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-legislation-raise-tobacco-and-e-cigarette-sales-age-18-21.