State Legislators Hold Press Conference on Tobacco Purchase Age Increase

May 11, 2004
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Westchester) held a press conference today, May 10, 2004, with Senator James Alesi to discuss bill A.9896/S.6923. The bill, introduced in the Assembly on March 1 and in the Senate April 22, 2004, increases the purchase age for tobacco products from 18 to 19. Supporters of the bill believe that the age increase will reduce the number of underage children who get cigarettes from older schoolmates.

Assemblywoman Galef said, "This year in New York 53,000 youth under the age of 18 will become regular smokers and that number is increasing. 60% of them use older siblings and friends as their main source for cigarettes. This bill will make it more difficult for children to get their hands on tobacco products and hopefully reduce the number of underage smokers who become addicted every year."

Senator Alesi added, "I have seen the devastating effects of smoking in my own family, and I strongly believe that we must do everything possible to discourage smoking among our youth. Raising the age at which one can purchase tobacco products is one way that can cut back on the number of young adults beginning this deadly and addicting habit, because it takes the product out of the hands of an age group that is particularly susceptible to targeted advertising and other influences."

Although New York is a leader in tobacco prevention programs, smoking costs the state $11 billion annually. Missed work, lost wages, and health care costs all contribute. Last year’s Clean Indoor Air Protection Act was an important step in improving the health and well-being of all New Yorkers. Numerous other state programs are already in place to help smokers quit and to educate youngsters on the dangers of smoking. In addition, New York has some of the most stringent retail laws for cigarette sales. Retailers face stiff fines if caught selling to youngsters, and as a result retail sales to underage smokers are quite low. This means social sources for tobacco are likely to be very attractive to children wanting to obtain tobacco.

Also speaking at the press conference was Assemblyman Pete Grannis, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. "The tobacco industry’s survival is dependent on luring new smokers, particularly children as they are the replacement smokers that feed the industry’s bottom line," said Assemblymember Grannis (D-Manhattan). "Raising the purchase age is the sensible way to further our effort to keep tobacco products out of the hands of school-age kids.

Attending the press conference were several groups supporting the bill. Representatives from the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association commented on the bill. Physicians representing both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also spoke.

Paul Hartman, director of advocacy for the American Heart Association said, "While the public health community attempts to reduce demand among youth for tobacco products, we must continue to evaluate our youth access policies and focus on reducing the supply of tobacco products to children. The availability of tobacco in our schools needs to be addressed. Reducing access will ultimately reduce addiction and disease."

Michael Bopp, of the American Cancer Society stated, "We know that efforts to curtail tobacco industry marketing to youth have shifted the industry’s focus to the 18-24 year old age group, the only age cohort where tobacco prevalence is increasing, not declining. In addition to the accelerating effect this industry strategy has had on legal age smokers, it also ensures a steady supply of social sources to underage smokers."

Richard N. Waldman, MD, FACOG, vice chair of ACOG said, "The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists District II/NY appreciates and supports Assemblywoman Galef’s efforts to reduce the incidence of smoking among teenagers. Tobacco use is a major cause of coronary heart disease and lung cancer in women, and women who smoke have an increased risk of infertility. ACOG strongly supports this legislation that will help to keep New York’s young women and men healthy and free of tobacco use."