The Town of Cheektowaga and the City of Tonawanda Police departments are right to enforce New York State's age limits on buying alcohol and tobacco products. Under state law, a person must be at least 18 years old to purchase tobacco products and 21 to buy alcohol.
In nine stores that were visited in Cheektowaga, one sold alcohol to an underage customer, and six sold cigarettes to a minor. In the City of Tonawanda, four of 13 stores sold cigarettes to an underage customer. In both municipalities, police issued tickets to sales clerks who sold cigarettes or alcohol illegally.
The Cheektowaga and Tonawanda sting operations are probably the first instances in New York State where the law prohibiting sale of tobacco to a minor has actually been enforced. The fact that only four of the 13 stores in the City of Tonawanda sold cigarettes to an underage customer most likely reflects the publicity surrounding the Cheektowaga sting operation which took place two weeks before.
At a time when there is an epidemic of hard drug use, some have questioned whether we should bother to enforce the tobacco access law. There are many good reasons to enforce these laws, including the fact that cigarettes are a lethal and addictive product that should not be sold to children like candy. Ninety percent of smokers begin smoking before age 21; 60 percent start by age 14. Nearly 75 percent of children who smoke buy their cigarettes illegally on their own.
Strong enforcement has been proven to make it harder for children to buy tobacco products. While enforcing laws which prohibit the sale of tobacco to minors will not end teen smoking, such efforts will make it more difficult for children to gain access to cigarettes, and they will send a clear message to young people that smoking is not an acceptable practice.
K. MICHAEL CUMMINGS
Director, Smoking Control Program
Roswell Park Cancer Institute