April 26, 2006

Jacobs and Majority Legislators approve law raising legal age to 19 to purchase tobacco


Nassau County Presiding Officer Judy Jacobs (Woodbury), joined by Legislators Jeffrey Toback (D-Oceanside), Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove) and Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick), today joined with Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi as he signed Tobacco 19 into law at a press event at Lawrence High School.

On Monday, the Legislature unanimously approved the law, which raises the legal age to purchase tobacco products in Nassau County from 18 to 19. Called TOBACCO 19, the law will make it more difficult for younger teenagers to “pass” for the legal age, adding a substantial obstacle to their purchasing tobacco products. 

“As a vast majority of high school students are not 19, there should be no students ‘legitimately’ smoking on or near school grounds,” said Presiding Officer Jacobs.

According to Legislator Toback, chairperson of the Health and Social Service committee, an informal study of local students shows that approximately 30 percent of the students at Nassau County high schools smoke cigarettes everyday, often on school grounds.

The three leading voluntary health organizations-The American Cancer Society, The American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association support the proposed law.

 “By raising the legal tobacco purchasing age to 19, we can further reduce the prevalence of cigarettes in our high schools and keep teens from developing an addiction that threatens their lives and jeopardizes their futures,” said Legislator Jacobs. “Often, 18-year-olds, especially those who are 18-year-old high school seniors, will buy cigarettes for their younger friends.  A recent California study showed 59 percent of 18-19 years olds were asked by an adolescent to purchase cigarettes on their behalf.”

The American Cancer Society commends the bill’s sponsors, Legislator Jeffrey Toback and Legislator Diane Yatauro, and the majority legislators for their efforts to keep cigarettes out of the hands of high school students.

"Teen smoking rates are still much higher than the general population," said David M. Martin, Regional Vice President for the American Lung Association of New York State.  "We should not allow a lethal product to be legally available to high school students who may develop a lifetime of addiction and disease from early exposure."

“While the purchase of tobacco products by an individual under the age of 18 is illegal, it is not illegal for a minor to possess tobacco products, and we all know that tobacco products are readily available to our children,” said Legislator Toback.

According to statistics, more than 80 percent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18. Legislator Toback said that it is estimated that tobacco companies make $1.8 billion from under age sales. As long ago as 1986, a Phillip Morris executive stated, “Raising the legal minimum age for cigarette purchase to 21 could gut our key young adult market (17-20) where we sell about 25 billion cigarettes and enjoy a 70 percent market share.

The law’s definition of  “tobacco products” includes cigarettes, cigars, bidis, chewing tobacco, powered tobacco and other tobacco products. With the exception of four states, the legal age for purchasing cigarettes is 18. In Alabama, Alaska, and Utah the age is 19. Tobacco 19 will be enforced by the Nassau County Health Department.