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State lawmakers raise age to buy tobacco products, e-cigarettes to 21

ALBANY – Tobacco products and electronic cigarettes purchases for those under age 21 will be banned under legislation given final passage Monday by the State Senate.

The Assembly last month overwhelmingly approved the purchase prohibition, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he will sign the measure; the ban becomes effective six months after he does.

The bill’s backers include most of the state’s major health groups, including Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, as well as the global tobacco and electronic cigarette maker, Altria Group Inc. A number of localities, including Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, as well as New York City, already have such purchase age limitations in place.

Supporters say it will reduce teen smoking and eventually save lives and reduce health care costs associated with tobacco use. Critics say teens who want to smoke have easy access to tobacco products even with a sales ban and that it is unfair to individuals who can vote, serve in the military or even be elected to the State Legislature to be banned from buying tobacco and nicotine-related products.

The bill does not explicitly ban smoking for those under age 21, but bans the sale of such products to those under 21. It affects all tobacco-related products, as well as herbal cigarettes, liquid nicotine, shisha or electronic cigarettes.

“It should be our goal to end smoking entirely, and this step we are taking today is one in that direction. Young people are less likely to pick up smoking the later in life they have the opportunity to do so. By raising the age to buy tobacco and vape products to 21, we will help prevent future generations of young people from ever picking up a pack of cigarettes," said State Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat and the bill’s Senate sponsor.

But one critic of the measure said 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 18, typically around age 14, and that having the tobacco purchase age currently at age 18 has done nothing to stop that longtime trend.

“Eighteen, 19 and 21 olds are adults and they certainly shouldn’t be treated like second-class adults, particularly for no good reason, and there’s no good reason here," said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. He said the state should reverse the trend over the past decade of cuts to tobacco control programs instead of “feel-good legislation that targets one of the least politically powerful group of adults in the state.”

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