Nassau teens react to tobacco 21 legislation


Nassau County teenagers have mixed opinions on a law that will increase the minimum age for purchasing tobacco and other smoking-related products from 19 to 21.

“I think it’s a good way to try to stop teenage use,” said a Baldwinite who identified himself only as Xavier. “It will make these products much harder for teenagers to obtain.”

But 18-year-old Baldwinite Chris Chao questioned whether the law will be effective in cutting down on the number of young smokers, one of the intended purposes of the legislation that will take effect in about 30 days.

“People will always find a way to get drugs or alcohol,” Chao said. He added that raising the legal age might encourage teens to try to purchase it even more. “It creates unnecessary arrests that benefit nobody.”

Democrats in the Nassau County Legislature had pushed the change in the legal age for years — with the late Judy Jacobs leading the charge — but Republicans used their majority to block any bills from coming to a vote. Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello, a Republican from New Hyde Park, changed his position earlier this year. The law will also prohibit anyone under 21 from buying nicotine gum, patches, vaping devices and electronic cigarettes.

The towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead and the City of Long Beach had already raised the age to buy tobacco to 21, as had Suffolk County and New York City.

The majority of people who will feel the full effect of this law are teenagers, who otherwise would have been able to lawfully buy tobacco sooner rather than later.

Although the Herald spoke to teens who had differing opinions, all found common ground in saying that the law will change very little for themselves and other teens who purchase tobacco.

“Everyone finds a way to get drugs, and changing the age would do nothing to affect their using it,” Chao said.

Xavier noted several problems with an increase in required age to stop teens from using. “All over the Island there are places that do not ID customers,” he said. He also mentioned that there are other means of buying tobacco at places that do ask for identification. “A lot of teens have turned to fake IDs, making purchases easier if they are ID’d.” Xavier said. He concluded by saying that “law does little to stop use but it is a good initiative.”

Freeporter Jessica Moreo said she thinks the legislation “will cause more outrage than anything else.” Despite that, she said the law would yield moderate success in the long run. “There will be a bit less access to it, so the goal of the law will eventually be achieved but it will not change any opinions on tobacco.”

In response to the criticism from teenagers, Legislator Arnold Drucker — Jacobs’s successor and a sponsor of the law — said he maintains that the legislation is both necessary and beneficial to the community. “It’s a law that’s going to save lives,” Drucker said. He cited scientific evidence to back up his stance, noting that 90 percent of habitual adult smokers start in their teens. “If we can reduce that number or prevent even a few teens from developing that habit, how can you argue that?”