By Alana Seldon SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – The smoking rate among adults in Onondaga County is 20 percent, slightly higher than the state average. 45 percent of those tobacco users in the County are young adults, as young as age 18. However, the county is making strides to change this.
Currently, shoppers must be 19 to purchase tobacco products in Onondaga County, but last week, the county’s health committee unanimously passed a vote to propose a law that would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.
The following items will be included on the list of off-limits products for those customers.
- Herbal cigarettes
- Rolling papers
- Pipes, and
- Electronic Smoking Devices
If approved by the Legislature, Onondaga County will join several other counties in New York State and nationally that raised the legal buying age.
While many supporters of the T21 initiative are encouraged by the health committee’s efforts, some local businesses like Smoker’s Choice aren’t too fond of the possible changes to be made. The law has not been put in place yet, but tobacco product sales may be affected by this change.
Assistant Manager of Smoker’s Choice in Syracuse, Ben Babcock says he’s frustrated thinking of regular customers not being able to come in and look for what he says are the simplest things.
“We have matches that we give out for free to customers and we can’t give them a book of matches… if they’re 20,” he said.
Babcock says he’s worried about what the law’s approval would do for business.
“We are going to lose some customers because we do have 19 and 20-year-olds even that come in here. Now, they’re not going to be able to get what they want and that is unfortunate,” he said.
However, sales aren’t his only concern.
“Me having to tell them that ‘hey, unfortunately because of the new laws, I can’t sell you this vape, or I can’t sell you these coils that you’ve been coming here for a year to get’, I’m not looking forward to that,” Babcock said.
Nearly nine out of 10 cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So, although Babcock is not looking forward to the change, supporters behind the health committee’s vote think they’re taking a step in the right direction
Executive Director of the Greater Syracuse American Heart Association, Franklin Fry says it’s important to stop smoking at an early age because health will be improved over the course of a life span.
“The brain is in development all the way up to the age of 25, but we know that if someone can get to 21 without smoking, there’s only a 2 percent chance they ever will,” he said.
Fry says there’s a broader issue and their goal in raising the legal buying age from 19 to 21 is simply to prevent new smokers for years to come.
“This won’t be something that we see immediately, our goal is what do you want Syracuse to look like 10 years from now. Because if we can change this habit in a next generation now, that’s the picture that we have. What will the next generation when they’re 30 and we might have broken that cycle of smoking addiction,” Fry said.
The Onondaga County Legislature is expected to vote on this on December 5 and will need 9 of 17 votes in order to be considered for County Executive, Joanne Mahoney’s signature.