Westchester raised the age limit for the sale of tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaping products across the county to 21 from the previous age limit of 18.
The Westchester County Board of Legislators passed the measure on Monday, and County Executive George Latimer signed the bill into law on Wednesday.Lawmakers said that the new measure will reduce the number of new smokers and the likelihood of new addictions to vaping products, some of which have a higher nicotine content than cigarettes.
Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, an Ardsley Democrat, said the increased age limit “will do much to protect our young people from the dangers of nicotine addiction and the carcinogens in nicotine products.”
“As the board discussed this measure over many months, it was both heartening and sad to hear from so many young people who have experience with this problem,” she added.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 15 percent of high schoolers vaped in 2015, nearly twice as many as those who smoked tobacco. That figure is a reversal from 2013, when nearly three times as many high school students smoked cigarettes as those who used electronic cigarettes.
There is also “substantial evidence” that e-cigarette use by young people increases their risk of using conventional cigarettes in the future, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
“The research is very clear and compelling: The later a person is exposed to using tobacco and nicotine products, the less likely they are to become addicted,” said Democratic legislator Catherine Borgia. “This law is very good news for the children and young adults of Westchester.”
Board chair Ben Boykin, a White Plains Democrat, said the measure will protect not only those aged 18 to 21, but also those who are even younger and might have someone in that age range buy them cigarettes or other products.
“This is especially important with the explosive growth of high-nicotine vaping among middle schoolers and high schoolers today,” Boykin said.
The measure passed by a vote of 16-1, with Republican legislator John Testa the only member opposed. A similar bill was proposed by Democrats last year but was never passed. Today, the board is made up of 12 Democrats, who have a supermajority, two Republicans and one Conservative.
Under state law, New York State prohibits the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18, though municipalities may establish a higher minimum age of sale. Across the state, other municipalities that have upped the age limit to 21 include Cattaragus, Chautauqua, Cortland, Onondaga, Orange, Schenectady, Suffolk, Sullivan and Tompkins counties, along with New York City and Albany. The minimum legal sale age in Nassau County is 19.
With the passing of this measure, Westchester becomes the latest in a string of local municipalities to raise the age for tobacco sales. Earlier this month, the town of New Castle raised the age to 21, and Rockland County passed a similar measure last year.
“Whatever we do to prevent kids from smoking or becoming addicted to nicotine today, pays dividends for a lifetime,” said Democratic majority leader Catherine Parker.
The measure will now head to the desk of Westchester County Executive George Latimer for his signature. A request for comment from a spokesperson for Latimer was not returned as of press time.