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Tompkins County to vote on raising age to buy tobacco to 21

Tom Magnarelli
Miss Macy & the Low Pay Daddys play a song on the Ithaca Commons.

The Tompkins County Legislature is scheduled to vote on raising the legal age to buy tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 years old on Tuesday. The legislature and public opinion remains divided on the issue.

It’s a beautiful, sunny day on the Ithaca Commons where Miss Macy & the Low Pay Daddys are playing music. They’re from Cleveland, Ohio, stopping in Ithaca on their way to a festival in Brooklyn. Jane Frazier, 26, takes a break from the violin to smoke a rolled American Spirit cigarette.

“I’ve been smoking tobacco products since I was 12 years old," Frazier said. "It starts off real easy, you’re smoking with your friends, then before you know it, you’re smoking a pack a day.”

She said she doesn’t think raising the age to buy tobacco products is going to stop kids from smoking. She said they’ll find a way, like she did, to get their hands on it.

]“I think in theory it sounds good because if I could go back and tell 12-year-old me to not smoke cigarettes I would,” Frazier said.

Also on the Commons is the Headdies Pipe and Vape Shop where Ricardo Deboyrie, 35, works. He said he believes the proposed law, which would include vaping products, is ridiculous.

"It just makes it more difficult for smaller businesses and is not fair for people over 18,” Deboyrie said.

Cortland County passed a similar law last year.

"There's a lot of people that drive all the way from Cortland to come here," Deboyrie said. "What's going to happen is people are going to drive somewhere else to go somewhere else. All of the business that is already here, the students that are already here, all of the infrastructure that we have put into here, it's just going to go to a different town."

Tompkins County Legislature Chair Michael Lane said they are receiving public input for and against raising the age to buy tobacco.

“I just received this letter from a gentleman in Cortland and he tells his story about how he was addicted and his fight with cancer, including mouth cancer,” Lane said.

Lane supports the legislation.

"Studies have shown that the brain is not totally developed yet and its more susceptible to addiction, being manipulated to things like advertising, peer pressure," Lane said. "It's important that we set an example."

He said if you give young people better choices, they will be less likely to get addicted. He compared it to banning cigarette advertising.

“When we stopped doing that, it began a generational thing to change people’s attitudes about smoking and cigarettes, which has been a good thing,” Lane said.

But he admits the measure is controversial among legislators and the public.

"There are folks that feel very strongly that we allow people at 18 to vote, allow them to be potentially be drafted, that therefore we shouldn't restrict them," Lane said.

Lane said it will be a close vote to get the proposal passed on Tuesday.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.