Suffolk County raises tobacco purchase age to 21 with support from many veteran smokers

Posted at 7:48 PM, Apr 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-14 19:48:03-04

SUFFOLK CO., Long Island (PIX11) — An 18 year-old can vote, serve in the military and prohibit access to his or her personal records, but because of legislation signed into law on Monday, 18-year-olds, as well as 19- and 20-year-olds in Suffolk County, Long Island, will soon no longer be able to purchase tobacco.

The ban on the sale of tobacco products to people under the age of 21 in Suffolk County was sponsored by county legislator William R. Spencer (D-Huntington), who is a medical doctor. The measure bans the sale of cigarettes, chewing tobacco, E-cigarettes, even rolling papers to customers under 21 years-old.

The measure, which passed the Suffolk County Legislature last month by a vote of 10 to 8, was signed into law early Monday afternoon by County Executive Steve Bellone. “This piece of legislation,” the Democratic county leader said in the ceremony, in which he was surrounded by children, “will no doubt help prevent young people like this from becoming addicted to these tobacco products.”

Suffolk County raises tobacco purchase age to 21

Nassau County still allows people 19-years-old and up to purchase tobacco.

Not everybody is pleased with the new measure, however. Kevin Beyer, president of the Long Island Gas Retailers Association, said that the ban will not cause teen and young adult smoking to cease. “You’re going to force the 19-year-olds to the Indian reservations, to the black market,” Beyer told PIX11 News, “which is booming as it is.” Prior to the legislation passing, tobacco sales were legal to anyone 19 or older.

Beyer owns and operates a gas station whose shop sells many tobacco and smoking products. However, when PIX11 asked some of his smoking customers about the under-21 ban, the reactions were consistently in its favor.

“Even as a smoker,” said customer Adeline Ruiz, “I don’t think children should be smoking. [The law is] for the healthier person.”

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think that it’s good,” said smoker Tom Fearon about the under-21 ban. “It’s better off that way,” he said. “Then they wouldn’t start smoking ’til they’re 21.”

Every smoker interviewed for this story by PIX11 News favored the under-21 ban in Suffolk County. However, one major shortcoming lingers regarding its effective implementation.

With Monday’s formal adoption of the ban in Suffolk County, it and New York City both prohibit sales of tobacco products to people under the age of 21. Located between those jurisdictions, however, is Nassau County, which still allows tobacco sales to anyone over the age of 19.

The Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Suffolk County also allows tobacco sales to under-21 smokers, but it is far, far smaller in population than Nassau County, which is the fifth most populous county in New York State, with 1.3 million residents, according to the 2010 U.S. census.

Its allowance of tobacco sales to almost all adults was the reason that Judy Jacobs, a Nassau County legislator whose district of Woodbury borders Suffolk County, was in attendance at the legislation signing.

“If we have an ounce of intelligence, and a lot of guts,” said Jacobs, “we’ll do what our neighboring counties have been able to do.”

It is legal for anyone over the age of 18 to use tobacco products. The new law will make it illegal for retailers to sell tobacco products to under-21s, much the same way it’s banned in New York City. The Suffolk County law will take effect January 1st.