MAYVILLE, NY – The Chautauqua County Legislature has approved a local law to increase the legal age to purchase tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21. The final vote on Wednesday night was 13 to 6.
The proposal has been endorsed by health officials throughout the county and Western New York, including Chautauqua County Health and Human Services Director Christine Schuyler, who said that passing the law will help to reduce addiction to drugs among young adults – who are more susceptible to becoming addicted because parts of their brains are still developing.
“Nicotine and tobacco are the largest addiction that we have and the diseases caused by them are the number one killers in this county,” Schuyler said. “When everyone keeps asking, ‘What can be done to prevent opioid addiction in this county. What can we do?’ Right now this is one of the most important steps we can do. The same developing brain is being affected, whether it’s tobacco, whether it’s nicotine, whether it’s the opiates, marijuana, cocaine – any of the drugs. Anything we can do to protect our youth is what we need to do.”
Earlier in the evening the legislature recognized several high school students from across the county for their athletic achievements during the winter sports season. Schuyler says it was fitting that on the same night the legislature approved the new tobacco sales law.
“It’s so exciting to see all the youth at the meeting here tonight being honored and at the same time the legislature acting in favor of legislation that truly helps to protect our youth from developing a life-long addiction that is horrible for quality of life, horrible for their state of health and costs us, as taxpayers, a tremendous amount of money,” Schuyler said.
Before going into effect the law must first be signed by County Executive Vince Horrigan (R-Bemus Point). Following Wednesday’s meeting Horrigan said he supports the law, adding that he is inspired by the number of health officials, teachers and young people who’ve also come out in support of it.
“You couldn’t help but think about those young people, the teachers, those health professionals and say, ‘You know what? this is the right thing to do!'” Horrigan said.
The county executive also said that with the county adopting the law, it’s a sign of leadership to the rest of New York State. “It is a leadership move that we saw tonight. I’m proud of our legislature for taking the leadership steps. We’re starting to see in Western New York our leadership on issues – the microbeads and now leadership on this. I’m proud of that. I think it says who we are and we are going to take the lead on these important health issues. In Chautauqua County nothing is more important than our health.”
Horrigan is required to hold a public hearing on the law before signing or vetoing. The date and time of the hearing will be announced in the coming days. Even if Horrigan changed his mind and decided to veto the measure, it appears there would be enough votes for an override (a minimum of 13 is required).
Prior to the vote, 20 members of the public spent an hour commenting on the proposal, with all bout four speaking in favor of the measure. Those who were against it were more concerned with the inclusion of e-cigarettes, which they said do not pose the same health risks as tobacco.
PUBLIC COMMENT AUDIO
Those voting against the measure were Robert Bankoski (D-Dunkirk), Kevin Muldowney (R-Dunkirk), Terry Niebel (R-Dunkirk), Bob Scudder (R-Fredonia), Lisa Vanstrom (R-West Ellicott), and David Wilfong (D-Jamestown).
Wilfong argued the law will have little impact on reducing the use of cigarettes among young adults.
“By raising the purchasing age to 21 we will drive tobacco users to other counties, states and our local reservations, where they will be perfectly legal to purchase cigarettes – so there will be little decrease in tobacco sales for 18 to 20 year-olds because they will simply get in their car and drive to another county or state to purchase cigarettes. The ban on local tobacco sales will hurt local business and is bad for our local economy,” Wilfong said. “The law before us tonight is nothing more than a feel good measure and its outcome, sketchy at best.”
Lawmakers who voted against the law also said that the county shouldn’t prohibit a group of adults from not being able to make a lifestyle choice that is allowed for other adults who are 21 or older.
Lawmaker and members of the public in favor of the law spoke of the health benefits the law will have on the county which has the ninth highest smoking rate in New York State and is nearly 10 percent higher than the state average. Over the long-term, they argue the overall health of county will be improved and that would help to reduce medicaid payments and annual spending.
There was an effort to amend the law to remove e-cigarettes from the list of products, which was introduced by Scudder. However, it only received six votes (it needed 10).
If signed by the county executive the law will go into effect on Oct. 1, 2016. Any business in violation of the law will face the same penalties that are given for those that sell tobacco to minors.