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No Smoking Until 21? Suffolk Lawmaker Says Yes

Suffolk Legislator introduced new bill at recent organizational meeting.

Suffolk County Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport) has introduced a county bill that would raise the legal age to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products from 19 to 21. 

The lawmaker introduced the bill during the body's organization meeting last week, according to Newsday, and further discussion on the matter is slated to take place at the Feb. 11 meeting. 

If passed, the law would prohibit retailers from selling cigarettes, cigars, rolling papers, chewing tobacco, powdered tobacco or smoking pipes to anyone under the age of 21. Store owners would need to confirm identification before selling those products, similar to when they sell alcoholic beverages.

Suffolk County is one of four counties in New York State that raised the age for tobacco products from 18 to 19 nearly eight years ago. 

Legis. Spencer, an ENT doctor, cited his desire to keep tobacco products away from young adults during the age in which they run the highest risk of addiction, according to the report. He also believes the age hike would cut down on healthcare costs in the long run. 

Similar measures have been passed in New York City and according to a study conducted by the MetroWest Health Foundation in Needham Township, Mass., where they raised the age to 21 back in 2005, tobacco use among young people has been on a steady decline. 

However, Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said his initial inclination would be to oppose the bill, taking a civil liberties position. 

"I continue to be very concerned about the slippery slope of regulating people's behavior," Cilmi said. "You have to ask yourself, why 21? Why not 25, why not 30? Why not tell people you can't eat a big steak? Clearly there are behaviors that are unhealthy, yet we engage in them every day. If an 18 year old can fight for our country and enter into contracts and get married, why is it that we need to tell them they can't purchase tobacco products? I don't think this is a step government should be taking." 

Cilmi added that education and proper parenting would go further to curtailing tobacco use than legislation.

Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) echoed Cilmi's concerns.

"I think at 19 you can make your own decisions," Muratore said. 
"I don’t think we need government to tell us you can do this, you can't do that."

Muratore said New York City's decision to ban large sized soft drinks has caused some civil liberties blow-back.

"Look at what they’re doing in the city," he said. "I don’t think we should be molding ourselves after New York City. It’s about soft drinks, it’s about smoking, this is just too much government.”

Want to sound off on this issue? Click on the "Blogs" tab, visit the open blog "Body and Mind," and weigh in with your own thoughts. 

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