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With state smoking age raised to 21, advocates hope to see an impact on youth smoking rates

Tom Sinon

Under a new law that went into effect this week, it’s now illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to buy tobacco products in New York.

One of the biggest reasons anti-tobacco advocate Chris Owens thinks this new law will have a big impact, is that 90% of teens who use tobacco up to now have relied on friends who are over 18, but under 21, to buy smokes or other tobacco products like e-cigarettes.

"By raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21, you’re preventing these younger adults from gaining access to tobacco products who were getting them from people who were slightly older than they are," Owens said.

There are a handful of counties, like Onondaga and Cortland counties, that have already raised the age to purchase tobacco products. Owens, director of the CNY Center for Tobacco Health Systems at St. Joseph’s Health, said the state law will prevent youths from traveling from county to county to make a legal purchase. 

Owens said the new law also applies to the tobacco use that’s rising the most among teens: e-cigarettes.  Owens believes the age change, plus recent attempts to ban fruit flavored e-cigarettes in the state, can have a big impact.

"I believe in the next couple of years at least, we’re going to see a decrease in the number of youth who are initiating some form of tobacco use," he said.

Raising the smoking age affects all New Yorkers, Owens said, noting the tax burden per household in New York from tobacco related diseases is $1,500.

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.