Would raise buying age, license vape shops
By Holly Crocco
After further discussion about legislation to raise the age to purchase tobacco in Putnam County from 18 to 21, the County Legislature’s Health Committee on Aug. 14 unanimously approved two amendments to the County Code that will affect the sale of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and all tobacco products in Putnam.
One amendment prohibits the sale of tobacco products and accessories to anyone younger than 21. Enforcement will be made by the county health department, and violations will be punishable by a fine between $300 and $1,000 for a first offense, and between $500 and $1,000 for subsequent violations.
The other amendment creates a licensing requirement for businesses that sell tobacco and vaping products. According to lawmakers, there is no fee associated with the licensing, and it will be administered through the health department.
“This is an issue that I’m very passionate about,” said Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra (R-Philipstown), who chairs the Health Committee and has championed the Tobacco 21 proposals.
The two amendments will go before the Legislature during its Sept. 4 meeting.
A third amendment that would prohibit anyone younger than 21 from entering a public location where smoking is taking place was tabled by the committee.
Legislator Joseph Castellano (R-Brewster) expressed concern over the amendment, saying it might cause servers at private clubs who are not yet 21 to lose their jobs. (Although you must be 21 to purchase alcohol, you only need to be 18 to serve it.)
During the committee meeting, Tracey Walsh, who lives in Carmel and is the director of special events for the American Cancer Society, noted that “e-cigarettes and vaping changed the playing field” just when advocates thought they were making strides in the war on tobacco.
She argued that regulating tobacco is part of the larger war on drug addiction. “Tobacco 21 is not an example of overregulation,” she said. “It is a fiscally conservative and responsible measure that will help reduce the $10.4 billion in New York tobacco-related health care costs.”
Walsh noted that the law would not criminalize the possession of tobacco by minors, only its sale. Police could not ticket a teenager they saw smoking.
Susan Salomone, executive director of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, said she believed taking tobacco and vaping products out of the hands of students will have a “ripple effect” on addiction down the road.
“I don’t think T21 is the total solution to this, but it can’t hurt,” she said.