Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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Rockland legislature votes to raise smoking age

NEW CITY – The Rockland County Legislature voted Tuesday evening to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21.

Introduced by Legislator Aney Paul, the proposed Tobacco 21 Act received widespread support from both residents and public health officials, who spoke out urging approval of what one advocate called a “common sense regulation.”

Denise Hogan, the program manager of POW’R Against Tobacco, a coalition of private citizens, non-profit organizations, and business all dedicated to reducing smoking rates and creating tobacco free environments, presenting the legislature with several letters of support from organizations including The Rockland Council on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependence and People to People.  “Ninety percent of smokers have their first cigarette before age 21,” said Hogan, who reasoned that raising the legal age of purchase could prevent many smokers from forming the habit in the first place. 

Maureen Kenny, the director of POW’R, said that smoking has become the number one cause of death due to preventable disease in America.  Kenney also quoted a recent finding from the Institute of Medicine that concluded that “raising the legal smoking age would significantly reduce the number of adolescent smokers.” 

Karen Schwartz, a representative from Rockland County’s branch of the statewide advocacy group Friends of Recovery, said according to a poll conducted by her organization, 63 percent of Rockland County adult smokers support Tobacco 21. The study also concluded that only 12 percent of Rockland residents are habitual smokers, a comparatively low rate that Schwartz attributed to the county’s already stringent anti-smoking regulations. 

Catlin O’Brien, a director of government relations from the American Heart Association, said that “five different states and 18 New York localities already supported similar measures,” while Kristina Wieneke of the American Lung Association asserted that “only 2.1 percent of all tobacco sales come from under the age of 21 buyers “assuaging fears that the new legislation would have a substantially negative impact on vendors.”

When the public forum was closed, lawmakers voted 12 to one in favor of raising the age.

Legislator Patrick Moroney cast the sole negative vote. “I appreciate that you’re trying to clean up Rockland,” he said, before explaining that he felt the new law should be adopted at the federal level and not left up to state and county jurisdiction. 

Moroney also voiced concern that the fine for breaking the new law is “too steep.” First-time offenders face penalties of  $2,000, an amount beyond small convenience stores’ ability to pay. 


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