Nassau County Deputy Presiding Officer Roger Corbin (D-Westbury) announced that Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi signed Tobacco 19 into law recently. The law will go into effect just before the start of the new school year this coming September.
On, April 24, Corbin and his fellow legislators 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 Corbin.
According to Legislator Jeffery Toback (D-Oceanside), chairperson of the county's 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 every day, 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.
"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," said Legislator Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead). "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."
The American Cancer Society commends the bill's sponsors, legislators Toback and Diane Yatauro, 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."
Toback said, "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."
According to statistics, more than 80 percent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18. 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.