Albany County Considers Raising Age to Buy Tobacco Products

A proposed law in Albany County would make it illegal for anyone 21 or younger to buy tobacco products. Before the May 9 vote, residents got the chance to weigh in on the law at a public hearing on Tuesday night. 

"Ninety-five percent of smokers actually begin smoking before the age of 21," said Julie Hart, the government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

The statistics of when people start smoking weren't up for debate at Tuesday night's meeting. The biggest question revolved around whether or not lowering the age to buy tobacco would stop more people from becoming addicted. 

"Don't you think 18, 19, and 20 year olds are going to be at least as resourceful as those younger teens?" asked a representative of the convenience stores, Jim Calvin.

Calvin said if younger kids start smoking before 18, nothing will stop them when it's only the 21-year-olds and older who can buy them. But the bill's sponsor, Paul Miller, said studies show otherwise.

"It has been tested in several places," Miller said. "New York City, Suffolk County, and Needham, Mass., has a law." 

The Albany Public Policy Director for the American Lung Association, Kristina Wieneke says it works because the 15-year-olds don't have as many friends in their 20s.

"Studies show that many underage smokers do not purchase their own cigarettes from retailers, but instead, they get them from social sources such as their older friends," said Wieneke. "Raising the purchase age to 21 will further limit such social sources for our children." 

This is the second time the Albany County Legislature has introduced this law, but last year it never made it to a vote. This year, it will, and Miller is confident he'll have the rest of the legislature on his side.

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