NORTH SALEM. N.Y. - Westchester County Executive George Latimer on Wednesday, June 6, signed into law a ban against selling tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.
The proposal passed, 16-1, on Monday, June 4, by the Westchester Board of Legislators before being signed into law.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said North Salem Supervisor Warren Lucas. “Kids find out later in life that they never should have started smoking. If this helps even a little bit, that would be great.”
The American Heart Association (AHA) said that by prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, the Westchester County Legislature has acted to save lives and improve the health of county residents.
“Passage of this bill will help fight chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and all forms of cancer,” said Caitlin O’Brien, AHA government relations director. “Westchester is now the 22nd county in New York that has taken this step to save lives.”
In the Hudson Valley, Orange, Rockland, Sullivan, and Ulster counties, along with the town of New Castle in Westchester County, have passed similar legislation.
“Smoking is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and tonight’s vote shows that the Westchester County Legislature is committed to the health of its residents,” said O’Brien, “The American Heart Association thanks Westchester County leaders for passing this important measure, and we look forward to improved health for Westchester County residents.”
According to the state Department of Health, 10,600 youth under 18 become new daily smokers each year, and 73,000 New York State high school students currently smoke.
“A March 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies said that if a youth reaches the age of 21 without smoking, the chance of them ever doing so plummets to 2 percent,” said Dr. Icilma V. Fergus of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Westchester AHA board president. “These laws will have a huge impact on the health of our residents for generations to come.”
In other states, the age limit change is already working. According to the AHA, in 2005, Needham, Mass., voted to raise and enforce the minimum tobacco sales age of 21. In 2006, before full enforcement, the town had a youth-smoking rate of 13 percent compared with 15 percent in the surrounding communities. By 2010, the youth-smoking rate in Needham was down to 6.7 percent while the surrounding communities’ rate only decreased to 12.4 percent.
“This is an important step in keeping our kids safe and healthy, particularly with the research showing the negative impacts of nicotine on the adolescent brain and the dramatic growth of vaping among young people,” Legislator Majority Leader Catherine Parker (D-Harrison, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Rye) said. “Whatever we do to prevent kids from smoking or becoming addicted to nicotine today pays dividends for a lifetime.”