CAPITAL REGION -- Effective Wednesday, the minimum age for people to purchase tobacco or electronic cigarettes statewide rises from 18 to 21.
The age is being raised under the Adolescent Tobacco Use Prevention Act adopted earlier this year. The change is based on the idea that a higher purchase age will discourage smoking by teenagers; most smokers start the habit in their teen years.
Schenectady County adopted a local law in 2017 that raised the tobacco purchase age to 21, but most counties continued with age 18 as the limit. The new law makes that public policy statewide.
The law was approved by the state Legislature last spring and signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in July. It has the support of health organizations like the American Lung Association and American Heart Association.
"By raising the smoking age from 18 to 21, we can stop cigarettes and e-cigarettes from getting into the hands of young people in the first place and prevent an entire generation of New Yorkers from forming costly and potentially deadly addictions," Cuomo said in July.
How effective the law will be remains to be seen.
According to the state Health Department, penalties for illegal sales to minors can include fines, loss of a retailer's license to sell state lottery tickets, and loss of the license to sell tobacco products. Every licensed tobacco retailer will be assessed annually for compliance with the law.
State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, was one of the few Democrats in the state Assembly to vote against the bill. He said the state should emphasize educating people about tobacco use, as opposed to imposing an age-based restriction, and he said he's concerned about young people turning to underground sellers to get tobacco if they can't buy it legally.
"My own personal experience, I joined the Army at the age of 18. You're an adult, you make a lot of important decisions. You have the right to vote. I don't agree with taking away the choice," Santabarbara said.
Santabarbara noted that the adult smoking rate is now below 15 percent, the lowest it has been in decades. "Providing education and letting people make their own choice is actually working," he said.