On Tuesday night, legislators in Suffolk County, N.Y. voted to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 19 to 21, making it illegal for retailers to sell cigars, pipes, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, herbal cigarettes and rolling papers to those under 21 years of age. It now heads to the desk of County Executive Steven Bellone, and if he signs it, will go into effect on Jan. 1 , 2015.
Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), the bill’s sponsor and a pediatric surgeon, told Newsday.com that “this will save lives” after it was announced that it had passed by a vote of 10-8. One of the bill’s most critical opponents, Minority Leader Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), maintained that 19-year-olds are capable of making their own decisions on whether or not to purchase tobacco, saying that “”nineteen-year-olds have a bundle of rights — they can vote, they can marry, they can enter contracts and serve in the military — but to say they don’t have the innate ability to make a choice about tobacco consumption gravely concerns me as overreaching.”
The bill attempts to reduce the sale of tobacco to those under 21 by going after merchants, not the users. Retailers selling tobacco products to those under 21 will face fines of up to $1,000 on the first offense and $1,500 on the second offense.
Suffolk County is home to nearly 1.5 million residents and encompasses the central and eastern sections of Long Island.
The passage of this bill in Suffolk County would seem to indicate that a similar bill in neighboring Nassau County could also be passed in the near future.
Update: This bill was signed into law on Monday, April 14.