A Suffolk County, New York legislator has proposed a ban on sales of tobacco and vaping products to anyone under age 25. Federal and New York State law currently prohibits sales to anyone under 21—but New York State allows counties and municipalities to pass stricter laws than the state’s.
A similar bill failed earlier this year in the Hawaii legislature. We were unable to find another U.S. municipality or county with a legal age above 21 to sell tobacco or vaping products.
The New York bill will face its first hearing in the Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday, Oct. 6. The county’s Tobacco 21 law took over a year to pass in 2015. Democratic Suffolk County Legislator Sam Gonzalez, who is sponsoring the bill, says the law will make Suffolk a more attractive place to live.
Gonzales, who was a two pack-a-day smoker that started young, has proposed restrictive tobacco laws before. Earlier this year, Gonzales introduced a bill that would have banned smoking in some private residences. He says he wants to prevent young people from making the same mistakes he did.
In New York State, you have to be 21 to legally buy alcohol or tobacco, but you can vote, join the military, sign a contract, buy a house, or even be elected to the state legislature at age 18.
“The…law will stop the younger kids from smoking. There is a big difference between the age of 21 and 25,” Gonzales told the New York Post. “The smoking age should be increased in order to protect Suffolk County’s young people from making such a significant decision until such time as their brains are fully developed.”
He’s referring to research that claims to show that the decision-making part of the brain doesn’t mature before age 25. But even if that’s true, a ban for adults of post-college age is a tough political sell.
“There’s no debate about smoking’s health risks,” Suffolk Legislature Republican Leader Tom Cilmi told Newsday. “There’s also no debate when people are 21 years or older, they should be able to make their own decisions.”
Gonzales knows his bill will face serious opposition. “I’m expecting pushback. I’m hearing whispers of, ‘Are you crazy?’ That’s OK,” he says. “We’re saving children’s lives.”
Apparently by “children,” he’s referring to 24-year-olds. In New York State, you have to be 21 to legally buy alcohol or tobacco, but you can vote, join the military, sign a contract, buy a house, or even be elected to the state legislature at age 18. You can be charged as an adult for a crime at age 16, and you can get married at age 14 if you have permission from your parents and a judge.
The American Lung Association, a committed anti-tobacco and anti-vaping organization, hasn’t indicated yet whether it will support Gonzales’ bill. A representative told Newsday the ALA is focused on raising taxes and expanding flavored vape bans across the country. He did, however, give Gonzales long-shot bill a name: Tobacco 25.
Vaping advocates in Suffolk County successfully battled flavor ban bills in 2018 and 2019, while neighboring Nassau County passed a ban in 2019. Before Suffolk could take action in 2020, the New York State legislature passed a ban on all non-tobacco flavors in April of this year.
Gonzales has introduced harsh tobacco legislation before. In February of this year he sponsored a bill that would have banned smoking inside private residences, including apartments, condominiums, and multi-family homes.
“It’s not going too far,” Gonzales told CBS New York about his proposed ban. “We’re heading in that direction anyway. We can’t smoke in restaurants. We can’t smoke in buildings. We can’t smoke inside the theaters…When I get the push-back from individuals that say, ‘No, you can’t stop me from smoking,’ I say ‘Why not?’”