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Policy Changes Reviewed For Tobacco Availability

Ken Dahlgren, of Tobacco-Free for Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, addressed the Chautauqua County Board of Health last week on potential policy updates to limit the availability of tobacco products.

Currently, the 107 tobacco retailers in the county are only required to obtain a license from New York state and do not face local mandates.

Dahlgren briefed the board on legislation that various municipalities around the state have undertaken in efforts to reduce the availability of tobacco.

“You had asked to see some of the existing laws that were out there in New York state at the time and I came up with seven that I was able to get my hands on,” Dahlgren said.

Due to the preemption of local laws in New York state, local governments are free to pass their own legislation or updated health codes to address the issue.

One of the earliest efforts on this front took place in Cayuga County in 2013, where officials stipulated that tobacco retailers could obtain two-year transferable licenses as long as they were not within 100 feet of a school.

In 2015, Ulster County passed legislation for one-year licenses that are not transferable but are also restricted in terms of distance to schools.

Also in 2015, the city of Newburgh passed legislation for non-transferable licenses aimed at lowering the total number of tobacco retailers. This process took the form of a phase-out program where fewer new licenses would be issues if tobacco retailers went out of business.

In 2019, the village of Dolgeville mandated that tobacco retailers could not be within 1,000 feet of a school and capped the total number of licenses at three, while also outlawing discounted and promotional sales.

“They are the first ones in the state to add the retail provision as far as discounts, which is highly recommended when it comes to youth access and things like that,” Dahlgren said.

During the meeting, board officials cited their concern over the prevalence of tobacco use as well as nicotine vapor within Chautauqua County and the corresponding health impacts.

The purpose of Dahlgren’s briefing was to get more information on what can be done from a legislative standpoint to mitigate this issue.

“I know the debate is whether this is something that should be done through the sanitary code or something that should be done legislatively,” Dahlgren said.

The primary issues that legislation or sanitary code modifications are likely to address are the overall number of allowed tobacco retailers, distance from schools, advertising and transferability of licenses.

In the past, the county has been aware of the impact that differences in tobacco legislation nearby from retailers in Pennsylvania as well as the Seneca Nation have had. With the passage of a federal age limit of 21, at least one of those differences is no longer an issue.

After the briefing, board president Tom Erlandson offered the idea of forming a committee to deal with the tobacco legislation issue.

In other business, the board of health reviewed the Chautauqua County Community Health Assessment and Community Health Improvement Plan for 2019-21.

The plan, which is available at the county website, covers 20 different health policies and initiatives with priority areas in the prevention of chronic diseases, promotion of a safe and healthy environment, promotion of healthy women, infants and children, promotion of mental well-being and prevention of substance use disorders, as well as the prevention of communicable diseases.

These programs require the county to coordinate with other agencies and organizations to achieve their goals. In the case of promoting healthy women, infants and children, the county has instituted programs such as the Maternal and Infant Community Health Collaborative, Nurse Family Partnership, and a new initiative through the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

These programs have been developed to address the issue of infants and children who may be born to mothers with positive toxicology screens for substance abuse.

The program is implemented through the use of Chautauqua County SART, which is the screening, assessment, referral and treatment system for children and family services.

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