Legislature mulls raising tobacco purchase age

Posted at: 04/30/2013 12:04 AM
By: Dan Levy

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ALBANY - Are 18, 19, and 20 year olds mature enough to make their own decisions or should the state take certain decisions away from them?

That, in a nutshell, is at the heart of the matter involving a proposal at the State Capitol to raise the legal age of purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21. If enacted, New York would become the first state in the nation to do so.

Few people would argue that smoking isn't dangerous, deadly, and additive, but if you're in the convenience store business, like Kris Otero, deciding whether to raise the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 isn't so clear cut.

"It's a bad habit to get started," Otero, of Coulsen's in downtown Albany, points out. "If they can keep them from smoking it's a good thing but I also don't believe they can take an 18 year old, put them into combat with a gun, and say, "You can't have a beer or a cigarette."

"I understand that argument," says Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal (D - New York City), a former smoker, who is sponsoring an assembly bill to raise the purchase age. "I think the state has a responsibility to promote healthy living. The problem with nicotine is that it's so addicting. I know that as a former smoker so we want to stop people from starting in the first place."

"It's not going to do any good, it's an exercise in futility," asserts Jim Calvin, of the New York State Association of Convenience Stores. "

The NYSACS has more than 1,500 members. Calvin says several studies indicate teenage smokers usually get their cigarettes from relatives or friends.

"Every step you take to make it more difficult for licensed, regulated retail stores to sell tobacco products to adults, sends more of those customers to the unlicensed, unregulated, untaxed side of the street," Calvin states.

There's also concern among convenience store owners that a higher minimum tobacco purchase age could cut into sales revenues.

"If the (Association of Convenience Stores) is telling us that their business model is dependent upon the sale of a deadly product that we know kills people, it's time for them to start stocking the shelves with something else," says Senator Diane Savino (D - Staten Island), who is sponsoring the bill in the senate.

Proponents estimate that, if enacted, a higher tobacco purchasing age would reduce smoking among 18-to-20 year olds by 55%.

When similar legislation was introduced in New York City last week, City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn argued that health care savings would more than make up for any potential tax revenue losses.


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