AUBURN | When it comes to tobacco, the Cayuga County Legislature shares a common opinion: children and tobacco should not mix.
And during its full monthly meeting Tuesday evening, the Legislature took its first swing at its professed mission to keep tobacco products out of the hands of Cayuga County's youth.
Legislators unanimously voted to approve a law seeking to require Cayuga County retailers to obtain a license to sell tobacco products.
A mix of educators, medical practitioners and students spoke during the law's public hearing — all asking the Legislature to pass the proposed licensing legislation.
Matthew Jones, a senior at Auburn High School, encouraged legislators to also approve a law that would limit his peers' exposure to tobacco products and pro-tobacco advertising.
"You now have the power before you to make changes in our community to protect us youth and young people from the tobacco industry," he said.
Speaking before the law was put to a vote, Legislator Pat Mahunik, D-Auburn, explained that the carefully crafted bipartisan law targeted retailers who sell tobacco products to minors.
"If the retailers are responsible and doing the right thing, it will have no effect on them," he said. "It should only hinder the youth."
Although the Legislature unanimously voted in favor of the law, legislators still raised a variety of concerns.
Legislator Dave Axton, R-Port Byron, said that although he supported the legislation, he feared that the law would give stores on the Cayuga Nation's land an unfair advantage.
"What I'm worried about is how this affects Lakeside Trading, and how it may be a positive for them," he said.
Legislator Mark Farrell, D-Weedsport, said that if legislators were "sincere" about limiting youth exposure to tobacco marketing, they would make the law stronger.
To give the legislation more of a bite, Farrell proposed a resolution to reinstate a recently redacted portion of the law restricting the number of tobacco licenses the county could issue every year.
Without that portion, he argued it would be hard to limit children's exposure.
"The part that was taken out of this ... that was a lot of teeth," Farrell said.
Mahunik disagreed with Farrell's proposal, stating that the proposed provision would increase the county's exposure to lawsuits — something Legislator Hans Pecher, C-Genoa, said he and Mahunik took great pains to limit.
"I think think what Mark is proposing would put us right back on the bulls-eye," Pecher said.
Farrell's proposed amendment was defeated 12-3. Legislators Cynthia Aikman, D-Auburn, Michael Didio, R-Auburn, and Farrell voted in favor.
At the close of their spirited discussion, the Legislature unanimously passed the law, requiring retailers to obtain free licenses to sell tobacco.
The vote, however, does not mark the end of the Legislature's battle to keep tobacco products out of the hands of Cayuga County's youth.
Although other proposed laws seeking to regulate the sale of tobacco and prohibit its use among minors were previously pulled by legislative committees, Mahunik said legislators will not abandon the resolutions.
"I see this as one step of many," he said.