The Tompkins County Legislature is looking to potentially increase the legal age for the sale of tobacco products to 21 in Tompkins County. The Health and Human Services Committee of the Legislature did not vote at its meeting December 19 on whether or not to recommend the proposal to the full Legislature but decided to revisit the issue at its next meeting due to a few unanswered questions.
Under the new law, no person shall sell any tobacco product, electronic nicotine delivery system, shisha or smoking paraphernalia to persons under the age of 21. This includes chewing tobacco, herbal cigarettes, cigars, liquid nicotine and rolling papers.
The Tompkins County Health Department would enforce the law and would have the authority to conduct periodic inspections in order to ensure compliance. Any person found to be in violation would face a civil penalty of $300 to $1,000 for a first violation and $500 to $1,500 for each subsequent violation. Any peace officer or police officer within the county would be authorized to enforce the law as well.
The effective date of the ordinance would be 60 days from the date of its enactment.
In New York City and Suffolk, Albany, Schenectady, Chautauqua and Cortland counties the minimum legal sale age for tobacco is already 21, according to the New York State Department of Health, and in Nassau and Onondaga counties it is 19.
The main stumbling block for the committee was the part of the proposed resolution that mentioned shisha, a product made primarily of tobacco or other leaf or herbs smoked in a hookah or water pipe; though it’s much less common, there are some varieties that do not contain tobacco.
The board members agreed that they needed more information on the current regulations pertaining to shisha and the ways in which any new law might affect the sale of the product before they could make their decision. They also wondered how the new law would apply to vending machines, said Legislator Martha Robertson (D-Dryden).
Information compiled and made available to the committee by Ted Schiele, Planner/ Evaluator, Tompkins County Health Department, included a graph by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed e-cigarette use among youth rising nationally as e-cigarette advertising grows. The rate went from virtually no use in 2011 to about nine percent of youth reporting that they have used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days in 2014 as advertising dollars crept up to $120 million.
Legislator Will Burbank (D-Ithaca) was in the minority on the board in his opposition of the proposed law.
“I’m a passionate nonsmoker, and I’m against secondhand smoke, etc., but I have a problem with it because at age 18 you’re old enough to be treated as an adult if you’re arrested, you’re old enough to serve in the military draft as a male, and you’re old enough to vote,” he said, “and to deny people of that age the ability to do something that admittedly is bad for them — it still seems they ought to be making that decision for themselves if they are not using it in a way that poisons other people.”
Robertson said it’s likely the Health and Human Services Committee will discuss the issue more next month and possibly vote on whether or not to recommend the adoption of the law to the legislature. A public hearing is required to be held by the Legislature before the law can be enacted.