Schenectady County

Schenectady County Legislature plans vote on tobacco-age law

Schenectady County legislators are set to vote at next week’s meeting whether to raise the minimum a

Schenectady County legislators are set to vote at next week’s meeting whether to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products in the county from 18 to 21.

The legislature heard a presentation at Monday night’s committee meetings about the proposed law, and discussed implications for businesses, smokers and those who enforce the law. Health officials fielded questions, and after about a half hour of conversation, the legislators agreed to add a vote on the adoption of the law to the agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting.

At Monday night’s meeting, officials from the county Public Health Department joined Legislator Karen Johnson, who is sponsoring the proposed law, to provide more information about the effectiveness of raising the age to 21. The three also provided details on the potential implementation process.

The law, which would require an individual to be 21 to purchase cigarettes, tobacco products, liquid nicotine or electronic cigarettes, was introduced in June. A public hearing was held in early July over the proposed law, where about 75 percent of those who spoke were in favor of raising the age minimum, with many working for various health organizations.

Those in favor of the law have repeatedly cited the health benefits and the fact that most adult smokers start at a young age. Those opposed refer to an individual’s right to join the military at age 18, and the fact that many younger people who want to smoke will find other means to get tobacco.

Legislator Brian McGarry, who has said previously he is against smoking but against the proposed law as well, voiced his concerns again on Monday. He said since the law is focused on the purchasing of tobacco and not on the use of tobacco, he questions the proposed law’s effectiveness.

Younger people are in many cases already getting tobacco products from individuals who are of age, he said, so they can just bypass the new law. He added that people should have the liberty to make their own choices, even if it means making “stupid decisions.”

Johnson said she views the law as dealing with a public health issue, and other laws like it have proven to be successful. In addition, public health officials said the potential effect on businesses would be minimal since 18- to 20-year-olds account for only a small percentage of sales.

Several other counties across New York state have enacted similar measures, including Albany County, which passed its law in June. Johnson said she believes it will benefit Schenectady County to be able to learn from Albany County’s experience with the new regulations.

If approved, the law would go into effect Sept. 1. Officials said at the meeting that the plan would be to have it fully rolled out by Jan. 1, 2017, which would allow enough time to educate the public and make retailers aware.

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