Galef Introduces Bill to Raise the Purchase Age for Tobacco to 19

March 8, 2004

Assemblywoman Sandy Galef introduced on March 1 a new bill (A.9896) to raise the purchase age for tobacco products from 18 to 19 in New York State. The goal of the new legislation is to reduce the number of underage children who are able to get cigarettes from older peers in high schools.

Assemblywoman Galef said, "This year in New York 53,000 youth under the age of 18 become regular smokers and that number is increasing every year. 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."

Smoking costs New York more than $11 billion annually, even though New York is a leader in tobacco prevention programs. Last year’s Clean Indoor Air Protection Act was an important step in improving the health and well-being of all New Yorkers. Numerous state programs are already in place to help smokers quit and to educate youngsters on the dangers of smoking.

Assemblywoman Galef said, "New York has made a good start in reducing the number of its citizens who smoke. This bill is intended as yet another arrow in the quiver to make New York a healthier place to live. The health risks involved with smoking are well known. Cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and infertility all strike smokers at much higher rates than non-smokers. According to the Tobacco Free Kids organization, 377,000 of kids in New York under the age of 18 alive today will die of smoking and an equally high number will suffer from other health problems due to tobacco. We simply cannot continue to endure these losses to such an easily preventable problem."

The American Cancer Society supports Galef’s bill. In a memo urging support for the bill, 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"

The American Heart Association also supports A.9896. "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," said Paul Hartman, director of advocacy for the group. "The availability of tobacco in our schools needs to be addressed. Reducing access will ultimately reduce addiction and disease."

Another organization, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists voiced its support for the new legislation. "The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, District II/NY (ACOG) appreciates and supports Assembly Member 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," said Richard N. Waldman, MD, FACOG, vice chair of ACOG. "ACOG strongly supports this legislation that will help to keep New York's young women and men healthy and free of tobacco use."

Along with health groups, the New York State Parent Teacher Association backs the bill. "The New York State PTA is happy to support legislation that restricts access to tobacco for young people," said Patricia Hysert, Health Chair.