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Hike in tobacco purchase age put on hold by Legislature

March 31, 2016
By Jimmy McCarthy ( , Westfield Republican

Upping the tobacco purchase age is on hold in Chautauqua County.

A local law raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 was tabled at the request of Mark Tarbrake, Human Services Committee chairman, during Wednesday's County Legislature meeting. Tarbrake, R-Jamestown, said the tabling came after a number of legislators requested more time and information on the impacts of a raise, with the main concern surrounding economics.

"That was one of the concerns a couple of legislators brought up to me, and how it would affect local stores," Tarbrake said. "I'm in full support of the law. I think it needs to pass in this county for the sake of our young children."

Christine Schuyler, county public health director, said she was surprised with the tabling after the local law was endorsed by the county Board of Health last year. However, Schuyler said the tabling will allow legislators more time to study the issue to make an informed decision.

"I see what's happening to our youth firsthand," Schuyler said. "We really are talking about a small pocket of the population, which are our youth, who are starting to use products."

Before the local law was tabled, several community members shared their concerns with the legislature. Brian Ellis, wholesale sales manager and store manager of Yeti Premium e-Liquids and Yeti Vape in Jamestown, said vaping is a successful smoking cessation product for addicted 18-20 year-olds. Under the proposed local law, the sale of liquid nicotine and electronic cigarettes would be prohibited to those under 21. E-cigarettes are battery-operated products that are designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals.

Ellis said Yeti Vape complies with current law and doesn't allow customers under 18 to enter the store. All products provide clear labels showing ingredients and warnings, he said.

"We've seen a number of addicted teens come in and they feel what it's doing to them," Ellis said. "Vaping is a very real, very successful smoking cessation product."

Ellis said 18-20 year-old customers would shop in neighboring counties if the tobacco purchase age moved to 21.

"Do you want to be responsible for driving more revenue out of Chautauqua County similar to that in years past when consumers traveled to Pennsylvania for clothing to avoid paying sales tax?" he said.

Sara Sanders, junior at Falconer Central School, said 18-year-old students are helping younger individuals obtain tobacco products and e-cigarettes after school. Sanders said younger individuals wouldn't be able to obtain such products if the purchasing age moved to 21.

"Their education is being compromised because of it," she said. "(No one) should stand by and watch youth become addicted and be hurt by such products."

Marcy Osborne, who spoke to the legislature on behalf of Crosby's, said younger individuals would still buy tobacco products. Overall, Osborne said the law would hurt local business.

"I have a store in Falconer, (which is) 7 miles away from Arrow Mart in Randolph. They'll go there and buy cigarettes," she said.

Ken Dahlgren, of Tobacco-Free, said 18-20 year-olds account for approximately 2 percent of tobacco sales, but one of the main concerns surrounding youth smoking is brain development. Younger individuals who begin to smoke occasionally cement the habit and become daily smokers later in their lives, he said.

"What we don't talk about is the fact that the adolescent brain is still developing up through the age of 25-26," Dahlgren said. "The brain development is going on. Study after study have showed that the developing brain is impacted by nicotine, leading to some of the same brain changes as you find in heroin addiction."

Fifteen legislators supported the tabling while Ron Lemon, R-Frewsburg, opposed the move. Tarbrake said he will push the local law next month.

"It'll be a hot-button issue," Tarbrake said.



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