Raise the age to buy tobacco to 21

The American Heart Association and the American Lung Association look forward to  the day when the age to purchase tobacco goes to 21 in Albany County.

“We are very happy that Local Law C, which would prohibit the sale of cigarettes, tobacco products, liquid nicotine, or electronic cigarettes to minors and young adults, passed the Albany County health committee on Wednesday, April 27, and the audit committee,” said Kristin Salvi, New York state government relations director for the American Heart Association.

Salvi and Kristina Wieneke, public policy director for the American Lung Association in New York, both testified at a public hearing about Tobacco 21 at the Albany County Legislature on Tuesday, April 26.

“Ninety percent of adults who smoke started by the age of 21, and half of them became regular smokers by their 18th birthday,” Wieneke said. “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.”

“Today, 10,600 youth under 18 become new daily smokers each year and over 73,000 New York State high school students currently smoke,” Salvi said. “Tobacco use persists as the leading preventable cause for heart disease and stroke in our country. Half a million New Yorkers live with serious smoking-caused illnesses and disabilities, resulting in about $8.17 billion in health care expenditures annually. It is estimated that roughly 25,400 people die annually in New York State from tobacco related illnesses.”

Wieneke and Salvi countered opposition from The New York Association of Convenience Stores, and addressed the argument that members of the military should be allowed to smoke.

“There’s the perception that this law would have a negative effect on small businesses,” Wieneke said. “Cigarette sales to those under 21 account for only 2.12% of total sales. But, because 90% of smokers start before the age of 21, these are the very sales that produce 9 out of every 10 new smokers. Revenue gain should not be a priority when considering the lives of our youth at any rate, but this means that the impact on store owners will be minimal. We should protect our youth, and if someone reaches the age of 21 without smoking, the chance of them ever doing so plummets to 2 percent.”

“We hear that ‘If you can serve our country at 18, you should be able to buy cigarettes at 18,’” Salvi said. “This implies that smoking is a right and privilege as opposed to an addiction and societal burden. 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.'”

“Smoking kills,” Salvi said. “More than 130 cities and counties in 10 states – including New York City and Suffolk County – have enacted Tobacco 21. We applaud the Albany County Legislature for the steps it has taken so far, and look forward to the day the law is passed.”

The Albany County Legislature is scheduled to vote on the bill at its May 9 meeting.

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