The Town of Hempstead board voted unanimously to increase the minimum age to purchase all tobacco products, liquid nicotine, electronic cigarettes and all smoking paraphernalia to 21 during a board meeting on April 25.
Michele Gervat, director of community health for the American Heart and the American Stroke Associations, said that the law will save lives, and that Suffolk County had already raised the legal age for tobacco products to 21 in Jan. 2015. “Some believe that smoking is a right and a privilege instead of a health hazard and an addiction,” said Gervat.
According to a March 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine, raising the age of tobacco sales to 21 nationwide will, over time, reduce the smoking rate by 12 percent and smoking-related deaths by 10 percent, resulting in 223,000 fewer premature deaths and 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer. The report states that roughly 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before turning 21, and a substantial number of smokers — 80 percent — first try smoking before age 18.
Elmont resident Patrick Nicolosi argued that increasing the age won’t solve many problems, and that the law was another government attempt to overreach into the public’s rights. “I think, I know, it will create a black market, and it won’t cure cancer, and it won’t reduce cancer, and it won’t stop you from smoking,” said Nicolosi. “If you want to smoke, you will find a way to get that cigarette.”
Businesses in violation of the law would be subject to fines of up to $1,500 under the New York State Public Health Law 1399, and would potentially lose their license to sell tobacco products.
Vipul Mehta, owner of the Village Card Shoppe in Malverne, said he doesn’t expect the law to make any impact on his tobacco sales. “If you check mine or anybody else’s business, cigarette sales have always been, almost always, the same,” said Mehta. Very few underage people come into his store to purchase tobacco, he said. “Maybe I have had it happen once or twice a month,” said Mehta. “I ask them for ID and they walk out.”
Mehta says that people who are determined to smoke will get cigarettes through other means. “By raising taxes, by raising the minimum age, you’re not stopping people who are going to smoke. They will get them from out of state.”