Ulster County Pushes to Raise Smoking Age

Over the course of the past few months, a conversation that consistently is brought up among New York residents is whether the current smoking age should be adjusted.

 Ulster County Executive Mike Hein wants to raise the legal age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products in the county from 18 to 21. Hein included the proposal in his State of the County address Thursday, Feb. 2 at Ulster BOCES in New Paltz.

According to The Times Herald-Record, Hein said the proposal is part of his ongoing emphasis on improving the health of county residents. 

Health experts estimate that 90 percent of adult smokers picked up the habit before the age of 18 and raising the legal limit in the county would help curtail the diseases associated with smoking, Hein said.

When discussing the possible reason behind the change, SUNY New Paltz Associate Professor and Political Science Chair Jeff Miller emphasized the importance of giving people the resources to make the right decisions.

“Throughout our life, we introduce this idea to young people and arbitrarily peg adulthood at 18. Then when people reach that age, they realize that maybe they don’t have all of the pre-requisites. So when does that happen? When are people able to make the right decisions?”  Miller asked.

“With setting the legal age at 21, you are giving people all of the opportunities to make the right choice. In fact, they would almost have to go out of their way to make the wrong one,” Miller said.

Miller also explained that economically, something like this has the potential to affect tax revenue if brought statewide. In New Paltz specifically, Miller believes enforcement might be an issue regarding the fact that a large demographic of the town is made up of college students, majority being between the ages of 18 and 21.

Transfer third-year digital media production major James Bruckner claims that he is not sure if the change in legal age would make much of a difference in preventing people from smoking. 

Bruckner explains, “I was 18 when I started smoking regularly and I was never asked for ID when I wanted to buy packs.”

Regarding the possibility of this change being a deterrent for young people to buy tobacco products, Bruckner marvels at the accessibility younger people have in getting restricted substances.

“I think tobacco alone should be enough of a deterrent. Regardless, people are going to find a way to indulge in their vices. I don’t see many underage people having trouble getting alcohol. If they want it, they’ll get it,” Bruckner said.

Similarly, Smokes 4 Less part-time employee Justin Lendle believes that no matter the legal age, people will find a way to purchase tobacco products either way.

“Carding can only do so much,” he said. “If kids come in here with their friends and don’t have ID indicating the right age, they can just come in later on and have it be bought for them.”

Lendle also expressed skepticism in changing the legal age for purchasing tobacco. 

“It just doesn’t make sense that at 18 you can enlist in the army and fight for your country, but you’re limited to what you can and cannot buy,” he said.