Niagara County legislators are contemplating a local law that would ban sales of tobacco products to people younger than 21 years old.
At the legislature’s business meeting earlier this month, Lockport High School students, school nurses and local physicians urged lawmakers to adopt a “tobacco 21″ policy, arguing it would drastically reduce smoking rates and associated illness.
Dr. Andrew Hyland, head of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center’s tobacco control program, told legislators that one-third of cancer deaths result from cigarette smoking. According to the center, which strongly supports the proposed policy, over 95 percent of current adult smokers began smoking before age 21.
“Younger people are more susceptible to nicotine and more likely to get hooked when they try it,” Hyland said. “The tobacco 21 policy pushes that age a little bit further, (so that) fewer young people will get hooked.”
Lockport High School nurses and students argued that a tobacco 21 policy would leave teens with fewer social sources for tobacco.
According to a 2015 Institute of Medicine report, raising the age for tobacco sales to 21 would reduce youth smoking by 12 percent.
“We know that passing tobacco 21 will not completely erase the issue of tobacco use by young people, but we know it’s a huge step in the right direction,” said Nick Doxey, a junior at LHS and member of the Reality Check program.
Legislature Chairman Keith McNall said lawmakers will discuss a tobacco 21 policy in the coming weeks, calling it “very possible” the legislature could vote on such a resolution by its next monthly meeting Nov. 20.
“This is certainly a health concern. Smoking does hurt people, some tremendously,” McNall said. “I think our county will make the right decision.”
McNall would not say whether he personally supports a tobacco 21 policy, saying he wanted to do more research on the topic. However, he added, “I’m not opposed to anything that protects the people’s health.”
Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton said he supports the proposal, saying research shows the average age of new smokers is just 13 in New York.
“The data shows if you can prevent someone from smoking while they’re a teenager, it significantly reduces the chances they’ll become a smoker,” Stapleton said.
Should it adopt a tobacco 21 policy, Niagara County would be far from alone. Twenty-three counties and cities across the state, including New York City, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, have raised the age for tobacco sales.
The policy has proven popular beyond New York. Hyland said that over 350 localities and six states have raised the minimum age for tobacco purchases to 21. And in those that have, he argued, retailers that sell tobacco have seen little impact.
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October 30, 2018