OLEAN, NY – On Sept. 14 the Cattaraugus County Legislature passed Local Law Number 8-2016, which, effective Nov. 1, raises the legal age for purchasing tobacco to 21. With the law in effect, members of the community will be adjusting to the change.
Young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 who previously could purchase tobacco products in the county will resort to different methods in order to get their hands on it.
St. Bonaventure University students Andrew Wright and Liam McGurl do not intend to have any problems buying cigarettes.
“I understand why the law was changed, but there are countless loopholes in the change that allow for those under age 21 to continue accessing them,” said McGurl.
Both students plan to utilize these loopholes. Wright said he will purchase his cigarettes at the nearby Seneca Indian Reservation, where the age to purchase tobacco remains 18, while McGurl intends to get his 21-year-old friends to pick them up for him.
Wright added he believes Local Law 8-2016 will “just make them go to the res, buy cartons, and smoke more due to the fact that the state says they can't have them. But they could drive ten minutes down the road and get them.”
“Now they’re consuming them for 22 cents a cigarette instead of 50 cents, which statistically they’ll consume twice the amount of cigarettes with their income level,” said Wright. “They’re pushing more of the money out of these big national companies and giving it to these lower income companies, which is just increasing the profits to the cigarette manufacturing sector as a whole.”
McGurl, who is 20, likened the situation to minors obtaining alcohol.
“I think it'll be just as easy,” McGurl said. “Most of those underage are friends with or are related to at least one person of age.”
Wright, also 20, knows he will also be in the crosshairs of this new law. And while he can see how the law is good for the community, he does find it a bit unfair for himself and others his age.
“As a 20-year-old it’s extremely hard to go from a period where it’s legal to just taking away my right,” Wright said.
Wright suggested how the county government could have gone about this law a different way.
“They should grandfather us in and start this law for the 17-year-olds turning 18,” Wright said.
Distancing himself from criticism of the new law, McGurl thinks Local Law Number 8-2016 is a step in the right direction for the State of New York.
“I think this law sets a precedent that the State of New York cares about civilians' health,” said McGurl.
Cattaraugus County Legislator Joseph Boberg voted for the law for that reason, emphasizing that the legislators “believe this will effect the health of the people.”
Olean Common Council Ward 2 Alderman Kelly Andreano said she is excited about the legislation.
“Perhaps by making the age 21, less young people will begin smoking,” she said.
Andreano knows the effects second-hand smoking has because of her work as a speech language pathologist, noting that the presence of cigarette smoke greatly increases the risk of ear infections in babies as well as an overall increase in allergies, asthma and upper respiratory infections.
And she knows too about the effects of smoking on a smoker, noting her mother was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, caused by smoking and reflux disease, and underwent a life-changing, 14-hour esophagectomy.
With the new law in effect, Andreano is hoping the young people will be deciding not to smoke.
“Friends encouraging other friends to start smoking never stop to consider the ramifications,” she said. “Those young students think smoking is cool. It is not! Its effects can be life altering.”
Workers at three local convenience stores workers – the 7-Eleven at 183 W. Main St. in Allegany, the Country Fair at 421 N. 12th St. in Olean and the Kwik Fill at 3108 W. State St. in Olean – had little to say about the change. When asked if and how the law will affect business and whether their stores will lose customers to stores on Seneca land, most responded by simply stating “don’t know.” One chose not to answer at all and concentrated on customers.