MAYVILLE, N.Y. – The Chautauqua County Legislature approved a local law Wednesday night to raise the legal limit for tobacco sales from 18 to 21 years old, making it the first county in the state outside of New York City to adopt such a policy.
The legislature voted 13-6 to approve the measure, which will take effect Oct. 1. County Executive Vince Horrigan said he’ll sign the legislation into law.
In Chautauqua County, roughly one-quarter of adults identify as smokers, a rate much higher than the state average. The county has one of the highest smoking rates in Western New York behind Allegany and Cattaraugus counties. According to language in the law, legislators believe Chautauqua County’s smoking rate is the ninth-highest in the state of New York.
In passing this law, the county is implementing the “Tobacco 21” initiative, which has grown significantly over the past several years. The state of Hawaii has raised the legal limit to 21, and California lawmakers approved a Tobacco 21 measure in March. More than 100 municipalities have raised the tobacco sale limit, including Cleveland, New York City, Boston and Kansas City.
Anti-tobacco advocates claim the Tobacco 21 initiative will limit access to tobacco for underage kids, particularly high school students, who don’t often share the same social circles as 21-year-olds.
At the meeting Wednesday night, the public comment session lasted about an hour, with most speakers urging the legislature to vote “yes.”
However, multiple speakers said they felt the law should draw a distinction between tobacco and e-cigarettes. A few legislators also shared this concern, claiming the law could affect small businesses in the county if it were approved. A proposed amendment to remove e-cigarettes from the language of the law ultimately failed.
County Executive Vince Horrigan said he understood the balance between the economics and the health impact.
But he said the county needed to take the lead on “Tobacco 21.”
“In a few years, we’ll look back and say, ‘of course,’” Horrigan said. “We shouldn’t have young kids smoking.”
Suffolk County is the only other county in New York with a legal limit of 21 for tobacco sales. However, Albany County is currently considering the same model and has planned a public meeting to discuss raising the legal limit from 18 to 21.