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Legislature committee backs hike of tobacco sale age to 21

March 24, 2016
By Jimmy McCarthy ( , Westfield Republican

MAYVILLE - County legislators on the Human Services Committee want to see a rise in the legal age to purchase tobacco products.

During a recent meeting, the committee expressed full support of a local law to raise the age in the county to 21 in order to buy cigarettes, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes, among other products. The federal minimum age for tobacco sales is 18.

The county Board of Health recommended the law be moved to the legislature for consideration. Christine Schuyler, county public health director, said one in four residents in Chautauqua County smokes - the ninth highest rate in the state. Schuyler told committee members it's in the best interest of public health to deter young people from smoking.

"Tobacco is still the No.1 cause of cancer," Schuyler said. "This is a present-day movement that we're taking a lead on. It's obvious the health risks that go along with it. We need to do the prevention, and this is what we are about. Most young people who get through without smoking or use tobacco will never start."

All counties in the Western New York region currently follow federal law when it comes to buying tobacco products. However, several counties are working on a possible change and are watching closely as Chautauqua County moves forward, said Ken Dahlgren, of Tobacco-Free.

"Erie County does not have a local law, but they're working on it," he said. "Cattaraugus County is watching you. They're poised and they're waiting."

Dahlgren said New York state won't move to change the legal age unless there's momentum from the county level. New York City and Suffolk County are the only areas in the state that raised the age to 21. Albany County voted in favor of upping the legal age in 2014, but it was vetoed by the county executive.

"If we don't move on it, then neighboring counties won't move on it," said County Legislator Paul Whitford, D-Jamestown. "Someone has to take the lead to get movement."

Committee members questioned whether individuals would end up going to Pennsylvania or nearby reservations to purchase tobacco products. Dahlgren said raising the legal age will limit individuals from purchasing such products. Dahlgren said he's hopeful the Seneca Nation will cooperate, but doubts it will happen.

According to the county Health Department, 13.5 percent of high school seniors in Chautauqua County have smoked in the past 30 days. The Health Department also states that 5 percent of students in grades 7-12 who smoked in the past 30 days obtained products from 18-20 year-olds.

Tobacco use is closely linked to heart disease and cancer. Over 500 county residents die every year from heart disease, and the Health Department says many of them are under the age of 65. Nearly 1,000 county residents are diagnosed with cancer every year.

"This local law would be the ground breaker in Western New York, and we can be the first ones to do it," Schuyler said.



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