Who among us doesn’t know someone who struggled to end their addiction to tobacco?
Who among us doesn’t know someone whose health is worse because of tobacco? Or sat in a room and listened to someone hack with a smoker’s cough?
Tobacco brings devastation every day. Hearts are weaker, breathing is worse, and the risk for cancer is greater for those who use tobacco products.
Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy has a chance to improve the health of Albany County residents by raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21. The Albany County Legislature voted in favor of this, approving Local Law C – also known as Tobacco 21 – on May 9. The County Executive has 30 days from then to approve the law.
As a paramedic, chair of the New York State Advocacy Committee of the American Heart Association, and resident of Albany County, I urge the county executive to protect our youth by approving this measure.
Opponents say that at 18, people should be able to make their own decisions. The legal age to buy alcohol is 21 – it makes sense to have the same age to purchase tobacco. Although, really, our preference would be that nobody smoke. But at least T21 would keep our youth from going up in smoke.
Other opponents also say our military should be able to smoke if they are able to serve their country. As Memorial Day approaches, and we think of how to honor our military, I can’t think of a better way to do it than to protect those who protect us. In August 2014, the Department of Defense released a statement condemning the use of smoking for all military personnel. Dr. Jonathan Woodson concluded the statement by noting that, just as we would leave nobody behind in the combat zone [and] we expend every effort to save the life of a battle buddy that’s on our right or on our left, we need to do the same with tobacco use.
On Tuesday, May 12, Chautauqua County joined Suffolk County and New York City when their County Executive Vincent Horrigan, signed a Tobacco 21 ordinance. In his statement on the county Web site, Horrigan said, “As a retired 27 year senior officer of the Air Force, I join with many other military leaders in the perspective that tobacco products are a threat to our military readiness and too often compromise the health of our professional military who put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms.”
The business argument? Well, do we really want to be making money off a product that kills? Cigarette sales to those under 21 account for only 2.12% of total sales for small stores.
The statistics around smoking are grim. Every year, some 25,400 people die in New York from tobacco-related illnesses. Half a million New Yorkers live with serious smoking-related illnesses. This hits our wallets, too – illnesses and disabilities from smoking cost the state –which at the end of the day is you and me- $8.17 billion in health care expenditures.
We know that 90 percent of adults who smoke started by the age of 21, and half were regular smokers by the time they were 18. A recent report from the Institute of Medicine found that tobacco use would decrease by 12 percent by the time today’s teenagers were adults, if the minimum age of sale were increased to 21 years. If someone reaches the age of 21 without smoking, the chance of them ever doing so plummets to 2 percent.
We also know that raising the age to buy tobacco will stop the trickle-down effect, resulting in fewer tobacco products available to high school students.
Today, 10,600 youth under 18 become new daily smokers each year and over 73,000 New York State high school students currently smoke.
A recent Siena poll showed that 64% of Albany County residents favor this measure. That makes sense – the measure means better health and lower costs for county residents.
More than 130 cities and counties in 10 states have enacted Tobacco 21, including the state of California.
Please, County Executive McCoy, let Albany County be a leader in New York, by taking this important step to improve the health of all county residents – especially the future, our youth.
Member, Capital Region Advisory Board, American Heart Association
Paramedic Instructor, HVCC
Resident, Town of Colonie
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