Westchester legislators held a press conference Wednesday to push legislation to raise the age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products in Westchester from 18 to 19. Here’s the board’s statement:
BOL Majority Leader Borgia Gathers Support for Increasing Minimum Age to Purchase Cigarettes
Millwood, NY – Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) Majority Leader Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining) gathered support for new proposed legislation to raise the minimum age required for the purchase of cigarettes and tobacco-related products in Westchester County at a special press conference today, held at a popular delicatessen here whose owner decided to stop selling cigarettes entirely five years ago.
Joined by a number of BOL colleagues, including BOL Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers), other elected officials and anti-smoking advocates at the press conference, Borgia noted that the newly proposed legislation aims to reduce access to cigarettes to young smokers by increasing the age for purchase of all tobacco products from 18 to 19 years of age. According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report issued earlier this year, tobacco use stands as the nation’s leading cause of preventable death, killing 480,000 people annually. Tragically, another HHS report from last year notes that 700 kids under the age of 18 in the U.S. become regular, daily smokers each day, and almost one-third of them will eventually die from it.
“It’s time to make it harder in Westchester for our young people to access cigarettes,” said Borgia. “Increasing the age for tobacco purchase to nineteen in Westchester is a good start in fighting the smoking epidemic and ensuring a healthier future for all of our residents.”
Majority Leader Borgia noted that increasing the age to nineteen in Westchester will have a dramatic impact on the availability of tobacco products in high schools around the county.
Today’s press conference took take place at Rocky’s Millwood Deli, a local business popular with high school students and young adults in the area. Greg Santone, owner of the deli, also spoke at the press conference and explained his decision to stop selling cigarettes.
The proposed new legislation has been sponsored by Borgia, BOL Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers), BOL Majority Whip Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon), Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson) and Legislator Catherine Parker (D-Rye). All BOL members have been invited to sponsor the legislation.
“As a legislature, if we can facilitate even a small part in preventing our young people from starting this deadly habit, it is important that we do so,” said BOL Chairman Kaplowitz. “As co-author of the ‘Smoke-Free Workplace Law’ here in Westchester, I am proud to support this legislation.”
A major factor in proposing the new legislation, said Borgia, is national data showing that more than 80 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 18, and that three out of four teen smokers end up smoking into adulthood. Delaying the age when young people begin using tobacco reduces their chances of becoming regular smokers and also improves their chances of successfully quitting if they do become regular smokers.
“Tobacco kills 480,000 Americans each year and costs our country at least $289 billion in health care bills and other economic losses. Since tobacco is so harmful, we must do everything we can to prevent tobacco use among young people,” said Peter Fisher, Vice President for State Issues of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Increasing the legal age for the sale of tobacco products will help achieve this goal. We even encourage Westchester County to go the full distance and increase the minimum sale age to 21 just like New York City and Suffolk County. It’s that extra step that will complement other policies to reduce smoking and save lives.”
Makeda James, Westchester County Coordinator of POW’R Against Tobacco, said it is a proven fact that implementation of strong public health policies creates a shift in social norms.
“Over the past fifty years we have seen the positive effects of strong tobacco control polices, from the clean indoor air act to outdoor smoking bans,” said James. “Increasing the purchase age of tobacco products to twenty-one would further limit youth accessibility and help drive down youth initiation.”
Photo: BOL Majority Leader Catherine Borgia, NYS Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, Rocky’s Deli owner Greg Santone, BOL Chairman Michael Kaplowitz and Legislator MaryJane Shimsky at Wednesday’s press conference (Westchester County Board of Legislators / Tom Staudter)