State To Raise Legal Smoking Age To 21

New York state will raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 later this year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation into law Tuesday making the change.

The state Assembly approved the change in March with a 120-26 vote while the state Senate approved the change 52-9 in late March.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said too many children and teens pick up smoking despite decades of efforts to snuff out the habit, in part because of marketing aimed at young people.

“By raising the smoking age from 18 to 21, we can stop cigarettes and e-cigarettes from getting into the hands of young people in the first place and prevent an entire generation of New Yorkers from forming costly and potentially deadly addictions,” he said in a statement..

Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, both voted in favor of increasing the legal age to smoke. Goodell led questioning of Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, on the Assembly floor in March. Goodell noted that counties have the ability to raise the smoking age by themselves, as Chautauqua County and several other counties already have, with enforcement obligations also falling to the counties.

“From a Libertarian perspective, there are some people that question why it is we would allow someone to vote in a Presidential primary, register to vote when they’re 16 or 17; we allow them to drive multi-million dollar aircraft in the military or even defend our country on the front lines when they’re 18; we allow someone to get married when they’re 18; they can sign contracts if they’re 18, but they can’t buy a cigarette until they’re 21 under this bill?” Goodell asked.

“Is that because we want to make sure that our military that we’re sending out on the front lines don’t suffer premature death from cancer?”

According to the American Cancer Society, 95 percent of all smokers begin using tobacco before age 21. Raising the smoking age to 21 — a proposal the Society dubs “tobacco 21” — had been a major priority for the group in New York. Rosenthal mentioned the importance of the age of 21 in her response to Goodell’s question.

“Well, it is a very important public health concern, but there are other — people may not purchase alcohol until they’re 21, can’t rent a hotel room until they’re 21,” Rosenthal said. “There are other prohibitions in the law concerning age 21. But this is a — a dramatic — a public health concern that affects individuals and also affects the bottom line of the State which ends up paying — carrying a lot of cost of the illnesses that people get.”

The legislation also increases the legal age for e-cigarettes to 21 years of age.