Cancer Society and lawmakers hope to raise the age for tobacco sales

Legislative Gazette photo by Maria Enea
Sen. Diane Savino, self-described “most annoying” former smoker speaks at an American Cancer Society event advocating for Tobacco-21, increasing the age of buying tobacco products in New York.

In an effort to prevent children from developing tobacco addiction, a new law would raise the minimum age of purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 everywhere in New York state.

Introduced and sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, the bill (S.3978/A.273), that looks to raise the minimum age is known as Tobacco-21.

A prior bill attempting to raise the age to 19 introduced in 2009 died in the Senate Health Committee. Tobacco-21 is the latest attempt to change the age, and is already making leeway in the Assembly Codes Committee and the Senate Health Committee.

The American Cancer Society Action Network, along with cancer patients and survivors, joined Savino and Rosenthal at the Capitol in Albany on Monday, April 30, to advocate for this bill and other legislation that would support cancer prevention.

A new poll conducted by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was released at this conference with the advocates and legislators. According to the poll, 72 percent of those surveyed support raising the minimum age for the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21 in New York. The poll also shows that 81 percent of those surveyed say they are concerned about smoking and the use of tobacco products by young people under the age of 21. The poll interviewed 800 voters from April 11 to April 15 this year.

A March 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine — The Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products — predicts that raising the national minimum age to 21 will likely lead to a 12 percent reduction in smoking prevalence.

The study also showed that approximately 95 percent of adults who smoke started smoking before the age of 21. This time-period is when the brain is fully developing, including the parts responsible for decision-making, impulse control, sensation seeking and susceptibility to peer pressure. Because of this, adolescents and young adults are therefore a critical population to target with evidenced-based, tobacco control strategies, including the Tobacco-21 bill.

“Research shows that if a person does not begin smoking at a young age, they are much less likely to ever smoke,” said Julie Hart, American Cancer Society New York State government relations director. “Clearly this new poll demonstrates the widespread support for Tobacco-21. We know Tobacco-21 works. With 19 localities adopting a Tobacco-21 policy across New York, it’s time for the state to act.”

The 19 localities that have supported the bill so far include: Albany County, Baxter Estates, Cattaraugus County, Chautauqua County, Cortland County, Great Neck Plaza, Hempstead, Long Beach, New York City, North Hempstead, Onondaga County, Orange County, Port Washington North, Rockland County, Schenectady County, Suffolk County, Sullivan County, Tompkins County, and Williston Park.

In addition to Tobacco-21, advocates are calling for legislators to pass laws that would protect young people from indoor tanning devices and to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products.

The tanning bed bill (S.250) would replace the law allowing anyone above the age of 16 to use any ultraviolet radiation device and instead make it 18 years or older. The bill (S.7546), sponsored by Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Beach, previously died in the Health Committee during the 2015-2016 session. The current bill is also sponsored Kaminsky and is currently in the Senate Health Committee.

The advocates are also calling for a bill (S.758A/A.277) that would prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products. Sponsored by Sen. Pattie Ritchie, R-Oswegatchie, and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, the bill has been referred to the Senate Health Committee and would fine manufacturers if sold to youths.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 110,000 will be diagnosed with cancer in New York state and an estimated 35,000 will die from the disease.

“There has been good progress made on the local level to address this issue,” said Kevin O’Flaherty, director of Advocacy in the Northeast Region of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “It’s time that lawmakers in Albany pass legislation that will protect New York kids from becoming the next generation addicted to tobacco.”