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St. Lawrence Country Proposes Law to Raise Tobacco Purchase Age

Photo Kelsey Mattison '18
Written by Anna Soderberg

There is a new proposed St. Lawrence County law to increase the legal age of purchasing cigarettes and all tobacco products in the area from the age of 18 to 21, but the controversial regulation has the county legislators split on whether to adopt or reject the contentious law. St. Lawrence County Legislator John Burke is in favor of prohibiting the sale of tobacco products for those under 21; however, County Legislative Chair Kevin Acres claims the proposed law to be “government overreach.” Legislator Anthony J. Arquiett agrees and feels that the law represents government overreach but supports holding a public hearing to get input from all voters. This past Monday, the St. Lawrence County legislators agreed to hold a public hearing in June on a resolution that would raise the age requirement on purchasing the products.

It is evident to most that tobacco products are the leading cause of preventable illness and deaths across the county. It causes many different cancers, as well as chronic lung diseases such as emphysema, bronchitis, heart disease, pregnancy-related problems, and many other serious health problems. One of the biggest issues behind these tobacco products is the addictive component of nicotine. Nicotine is a chemical compound found in tobacco. Nicotine enters the bloodstream when a tobacco product is chewed, inhaled, or smoke circulating throughout the body and traveling to the brain, where it crosses the blood-brain barrier, becoming addictive and leaving the brain wanting more. Legislator Burke was quoted by the Watertown Daily Times as saying, “For anybody who’s had a family member who died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or lung cancer, you can get a lot of first-hand testimony as to the value of keeping cigarettes out of the hands of young people.”

This being said, Legislative Chair Acres voted against this public hearing and stated that he will oppose the regulation when the time comes. He stands by the statistical evidence that if prices go up. tobacco sales go down.A recent North Country Now news article stated, “Acres say he does not believe raising the age will have a significant impact on reducing the number of smokers either. He said the only way to achieve that goal is to increase taxes on the product.”  In this same article, Acres also expressed that it’s pretty clear to most people that tobacco can cause health problems. While he is not a smoker, he says the law places unnecessary restrictions on the public. He said the county passed a law a few years ago that prohibits smoking on county property, and that this law also prohibited people from smoking in their vehicles on county property, which he believes goes too far. “That law has led to people smoking nearby roadways just off county property and putting themselves at risk,” he says. Acres will argue this proposed law by pinpointing each flaw in current tobacco laws.

Not all the components of this new law have been set in stone; however, Legislator Burke did confirm that the law would include prohibition of sales of e-cigarettes to those under 21 as well. He also said it would not create a means for police to prosecute smokers who are 18-20, but is unsure whether it would allow police the means to charge citizens over 21 who are caught sharing their tobacco products with people underage. This proposed law is bound to bring conversation and discussion throughout the St. Lawrence County and beyond and will help bring awareness to the health effects of tobacco use.

About the author

Anna Soderberg