NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – An ordinance proposed by North Plainfield Borough Council Vice President Doug Singleterry on May 11 could, if approved, prohibit the sale of tobacco and other nicotine products to persons under 21 years old. The ordinance, which would raise the legal age in the borough from 19 to 21, is scheduled to be on the agenda at council’s June 8 meeting.

“Most smokers get cigarettes from friends and acquaintances who are the same age and nicotine has the strongest effect on teenagers,” said Singleterry. “However, studies show no one really starts smoking after the age of 21. By raising the smoking age we are reducing these situations.”

According to the American Lung Association, 85 percent of people who smoke regularly started smoking under the age of 21 and, said Singleterry, a study by the Institute of Medicine found that increasing the smoking age to 21 would reduce smoking by 12 percent. “There would be 249,000 fewer premature deaths, 45,000 fewer lung cancer deaths and 4.2 million fewer years of life lose between those born between 2000 and 2019,” Singleterry said.

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In New Jersey, the current legal smoking age was raised from 18 to 19 in 2006. However, last June, bills sponsored by Senators Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) and Richard J. Codey (D-Essex) to raise the legal age to 21 passed the Senate by a vote of 22 to 10. Currently, legislation for a statewide change is before the Assembly's Health and Senior Services Committee.

To date, approximately 10 municipalities throughout New Jersey – Highland Park and Princeton among the most recent –have banned tobacco sales to individuals under 21 years old. Passage of the ordinance in North Plainfield would make the borough the first Somerset County municipality to raise the legal age.

“The ultimate goal here is to encourage the state to raise the legal smoking age. This will have a much more limited effect if it is only enforced in a handful of municipalities,” said Singleterry, noting that New York City not to long ago raised the legal smoking age to 21 and Hawaii is currently poised to become the first state to do the same. “Hopefully, all of New Jersey will follow.”

While he understands and fully supports the health and medical benefits raising the smoking age will ultimately have, Council President Larry La Ronde is on the fence about raising the age in North Plainfield. “I understand what Councilman Singleterry is trying to do, which is basically have a step up on what the state will eventually do, but I also don’t want us to do this and financially affect the businesses in our town,” said La Ronde, who admits, at this current point in time he would most likely vote against the ordinance. “The state is going to ultimately raise the smoking age –whether it be in six months or a year – and if so, great, but do we really want to put our businesses through this before they have to?”

Should the ordinance pass, it would, at this point in time, be limited to North Plainfield and, as a result, “underage” smokers would only have to travel minutes away to a neighboring town to make their purchases. Already, in the weeks since the ordinance was proposed, the borough has received many letters opposing the ordinance from Quick Chek, 7-Eleven, gas stations and other establishments that sell tobacco products.

Last year, North Plainfield Borough Council banned cigarette smoking on all borough-owned properties by a vote of 5-2 and Singleterry said he is hopeful this ordinance will receive the same support from the seven-member council. “I anticipate that certain special interest groups along with businesses will not be happy with this legislation, but I feel it is important that the council withstand pressure and do what is best,” Singleterry said.