LITTLE VALLEY, NY -- The Cattaraugus County Legislature passed Local Law Number 8-2016, which will make it illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase tobacco products, effective Nov. 1.
The legislature heard 45 minutes of public comments before voting, and all but one of the public speakers were in favor of the law.
Speakers included high school student Abby Proctor, representatives from Roswell Park in Buffalo and Cattaraugus County Medical Director Dr. Gilbert Witte. The only person to speak against the bill was Jim Calvin, a representative from the New York State Association of Convenience Stores. Calvin said the law would negatively impact businesses and that 18-to-20-year-olds would still find ways to get tobacco.
Just before the vote, legislator David Koch spoke at length about his opposition to the law.
“Are we getting to the point where the government is going to tell us how to act in every aspect of our life,” Koch said. “ These kids are smart enough to make decisions for themselves, and we shouldn’t be up here making laws on what they can and can’t do.”
Koch was rebuffed by other legislators who said they had spoken with members of their communities and had learned just how much of a problem smoking by youths is.
Legislator Frank Higgins said that he intended to vote no, but after hearing from teachers who said that students as young as 14 come into classrooms with the smell of smoke on their breaths, he decided to vote in favor of the law.
The votes were cast, and the law passed, 14-2. One legislator was absent from Wednesday’s meeting.
Jon Chaffee, representing Reality Check NY that educates high schoolers about the dangers of tobacco, was ecstatic that the law passed.
“I think the legislature went to the forefront,” Chaffee, who had spoken at the public hearing, said. “I think it’s great now that our area, myself included, can be very proud that two out of our three counties have passed this law.”
Chaffee was referencing Chautauqua County’s passing of a similar law last year. He also said that Allegany County is considering a similar law. Chaffee added that he hopes this law discourages students from starting to smoke, noting that 98 percent of smokers begin the habit before they are 21.
“So when you have people who right now are 18 and legal to purchase not only cigarettes, but chew, people at a younger age see that and those are their role models,” Chaffee said. “And they are getting the image that that is what they should do at that age and also it gives them the opportunity to get those products at a younger age.”
Cattaraugus County had 16,998 smokers in 2014, and over 4,000 of them were under the age of 21, according to Cattaraugus County Public Health Director Dr. Kevin Watkins. Legislators said they hope that by limiting teenagers’ access to tobacco those statistics will drop drastically.