Efforts underway to raise North Country tobacco purchase age to 21

Published: May. 29, 2018 at 5:03 PM EDT
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An effort is underway in Essex County, New York, to change the age of purchasing tobacco to 21. If it were to pass, it would be the 11th county in the state to adopt the law.

Officials with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids say that 350 kids under the age of 18 become regular smokers everyday. That's just one of the many statistics the health department is using to try to make this law a reality.

"An addiction that happens early on a developing brain is one of the hardest things to curb in your entire life," said Linda Beers with the Essex County Health Department.

The former Essex County Courthouse was the site of a public hearing Tuesday on raising the age of purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21.

"I think it's a great idea. As an ex-smoker myself, it's a strong addiction, and if there is anything they can do to prevent a young person from starting, I think that's a good idea," said Frances Olcott, a former smoker.

The idea behind Tobacco 21 is to help reduce the number of young people being exposed to tobacco products. A 2014 study from the New York State Department of Health found more that 21-percent of young adults aged 18 to 24 smoked cigarettes in the North Country -- much higher than the 13-percent state average in that age range.

"The access to cigarettes at an early age causes life long addiction. Some of the hardest addicted people are the people that started smoking very young," Beers said.

Advocates say fewer people smoking means fewer people suffering from smoking-related illnesses like cancer, respiratory issues and heart disease.

While many were for the change at Tuesday's hearing, others say it could hurt businesses. "Number one -- convenience stores support the goal -- the goal is to prevent youth access to tobacco. But what we don't agree with is the solution. We are aware that there are too many other ways for young people to access tobacco without buying them from a store that's enforcing the purchase age," said Jim Calvin with the New York Association of Convenience Stores.

Health Department officials say numerous convenience stores in there area have signed a petition to raise the age and protect the youth of the county and that they also hope surrounding counties follow suit.

A similar proposal in Clinton County earlier this year was approved in Plattsburgh but has yet to become law in the county.