Changing the Purchase Age of Tobacco from 18 to 19 Gains Support From the Assembly Health Committee

April 17, 2008

Assemblywoman Sandy Galef announced that her bill has made it through its first step of the legislative process, with an affirmative vote of support from the Assembly Health Committee on April 15, 2008. This bill (A.2537/S.4515) would increase the purchasing age of tobacco and tobacco products from eighteen to nineteen.

Galef said, “Every year 53,000 youths in New York start to smoke. The best way to prevent people from smoking is to stop them from starting in the first place. If more children under nineteen do not start smoking because this bill, then I will consider it a success. Today it is very easy for children under the age of eighteen to obtain tobacco from their older friends. I believe that raising the age from eighteen to nineteen will create more obstacles in obtaining cigarettes and save many young people from this strong addiction and from significant medical problems later in life”

According to the Tobacco-free Schools Program between 80%-90% of smokers start before the age of eighteen. Most of these teenage smokers start through social activities with friends before it turns into a regular and addictive activity. Many of these teens who start before eighteen are introduced to cigarettes and tobacco products from older friends. The majority of high school seniors turn eighteen before the end of high school, providing an easy way for their younger friends to obtain tobacco illegally. Since there are fewer nineteen year olds in high school, the bill would create less distribution of tobacco products among high school students.

The bill, which is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Charles Fuschillo (S.4515), has received a wide amount of support from medical groups- including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the Medical Society of the State of New York. The American Cancer Society supports this bill because approximately 60% of teenagers under eighteen are able to access cigarettes without attempting to purchase them from a retail business. They also stated that “in order for New York to reach the goal of reducing teen smoking by 50%, as endorsed by Governor Pataki in 2001, we must compliment our current efforts by reducing or eliminating social sources of tobacco.”

Nassau and Suffolk counties have already adopted a law to change the legal age to purchase tobacco from eighteen to nineteen, as well as other states across the country including New Jersey, Utah, Alabama, and Alaska.

Galef concluded, “While I know that this will not completely stop our kids from smoking, it is one of many methods that together will help lower the teen smoking rate and prevent health problems for our children down the road. Along with the new cigarette tax, stronger smoking bans, and more education on the problems associated with smoking, we can effectively prevent thousands of New Yorkers from starting this smoking habit.”