Consumers will need to be 21 to purchase tobacco products in Schenectady County following the passage of a new law.
The Schenectady County Legislature voted at its Tuesday night meeting to increase the age requirement from 18 to 21 to buy cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, tobacco products or liquid nicotine. The law is set to go into effect Sept. 1, with a full implementation being completed by Jan. 1, 2017.
A few legislators expressed reservations about voting in favor of the law, mostly citing their belief that it infringes on freedom of choice. The law ultimately passed, 8-4, with two legislators absent and one abstaining.
Schenectady County is the latest to adopt a measure changing the age to purchase tobacco products. Albany, Chautauqua and Cortland counties have also passed similar measures this year.
“I think that we have to start thinking about all the ways we can prevent risky behavior, especially among our young people because these are lifelong habits,” said Legislator Karen Johnson, who sponsored the bill.
Johnson said she thought it was good for the Legislature to have a dialogue on the pros and cons of the proposed law.
The legislators who opposed the law did so for various reasons. Brian McGarry, who has repeatedly said he opposes smoking but also opposes the law because it infringes on individual liberties, spoke up again on Tuesday. Legislator Holly Vellano echoed that sentiment before voting “no” on the law.
Legislator Cathy Gatta said before the vote that she was torn, but shared an anecdote of meeting a few 13-year-olds who were smoking cigarettes. She said she feels efforts to reduce youth smoking might be better served addressing those who are 11, 12 or 13, as opposed to those who are 18 to 20 who are in many cases already smokers.
The law is scheduled to go into effect on Sept. 1, but officials said the plan would be to have it fully rolled out by Jan. 1, 2017. That would provide enough time to educate the public, spread awareness and ensure retailers know about the change, they said.
Legislator Gary Hughes, the majority leader, suggested Tuesday that there be a period where enforcement of the new law is advisory so convenience store clerks can adjust before there is a punishment involved.
The enforcement process for the law would remain largely the same as it was when the age requirement was 18, health officials said last week.
Each store that sells tobacco products is visited once a year, and the county periodically conducts stings where underage individuals are sent into stores to try and buy tobacco. The punishment if a clerk sells to the minor is a fine, and repeated violations could lead to losing the right to sell tobacco products.
Legislator Jerry Buhrmaster, the minority leader, said he views it as an issue that the onus to uphold the law is on the clerks. He also questioned how effective the law will be, since 18- to 20-year-olds looking to buy tobacco can simply drive to Montgomery or Rensselaer counties, where the age requirement is still 18. Buhrmaster voted “no” on the law.
A few legislators said they would prefer to see the age raised at a state level as opposed to each county deciding on its own.
At a July public hearing on the proposed law, the majority of speakers were in favor of the change. Many who spoke were part of various state and local health organizations
As the resolution to adopt the law was approved, a few people who had spoken multiple times in favor of the resolution applauded.