The Suffolk County Legislature approved a bill Tuesday night that raises the legal age to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products from 19 to 21.
The bill, which will become the law on Jan. 1, 2015 after being signed by County Executive Steve Bellone, will prohibit retailers from selling cigarettes, cigars, rolling papers, chewing tobacco, powdered tobacco or smoking pipes to anyone under the age of 21.
Following hours of debate, the legislature approved the bill Tuesday by a 10-8 vote, largely along party lines, with all the yes votes coming from Democrats and six of the eight no votes from Republicans, Newsday reported.
Legis. William Spencer, D-Centerport, the bill's sponsor, has said he wants to keep tobacco products away from young adults during the age in which they run the highest risk of addiction.
"Due to the biology of the developing brain, teenagers are at risk because they do not understand the dangerous long-term effects," Spencer, a doctor, said last week. "Teenagers can become addicted to nicotine before they have even smoked one pack of cigarettes."
The bill faced opposition from gas station and convenience store owners, Newsday reported, and Republicans argued that 19-year-olds should be free to make their own decisions.
Retailers who are caught selling tobacco products to anyone under 21 would face hefty fines of up to $1,000 for a first violation under the new law and up to $1,500 for each subsequent violation.
Bellone praised the legislature in a statement released Wednesday.
“I want to thank the legislature for passing this bill, which is a an important step toward protecting the young people here in Suffolk County,” he said. “This could save lives by preventing young people from ever starting to smoke.”
Suffolk County first hiked the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 19 in 2004. New York City has already raised the age to buy cigarettes to 21.
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