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Onondaga County lawmakers pass proposal to raise age to purchase tobacco to 21

Ellen Abbott
Onondaga County Legislator Danny Liedka, left, during a meeting of the county legislature Tuesday

Onondaga County lawmakers voted Tuesday to raise the age to buy tobacco products in the county from 19 to 21.

Advocates of increasing  the tobacco buying age, like the American Heart Association’s Franklin Fry,  made the case to lawmakers that the fight against tobacco products has to start young.  

“We know from our science that if someone can get to 21 without smoking, there’s only a 2 percent chance they ever will,” said Fry.

It was ultimately statistics like that that turned around a key legislator, who’d held up past attempts to raise the tobacco buying age. Republican Danny Liedka, who chairs the legislature’s health committee, had in the past had been concerned about the government infringing on personal rights, especially of those in the military.

Liedka says another look at the statistics changed his mind, also remembering the death of his mother as he urged lawmakers to approve it. She started smoking at 15 and died at 56.

“I took care of my mother for ten years. Ten years from this disgusting habit. And if we can stop kids, even a small percentage of those kids from starting, we’re doing our job,” said Liedka.

Liedka also says it was the research into the impact of a higher smoking age that changed his mind.

“When I look at the numbers, not so much in the reduction in numbers, it’s the prevention. If we can stop these kids from becoming addicted, that’s everything,” he said.

There will be a public hearing and legislation still needs to be signed County Executive Joanie Mahoney before it becomes law.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.