Anti-Smoking Ads

FILE - This Friday, April 7, 2017, file photo, shows cigarette butts discarded in an ashtray outside a New York office building. Decades after they were banned from the airwaves, Big Tobacco companies are returning to prime-time television, but not by choice. Under court order, the tobacco industry for the first time will be forced to advertise the deadly, addictive effects of smoking, more than 11 years after a judge ruled that the companies had misled the public about the dangers of cigarettes. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Mark Lennihan

Although the Onondaga County Legislature will soon vote on a proposal to change the legal age for buying tobacco products, the chair for the Cayuga County Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee said he hasn't heard of similar discussions in his area.

Onondaga County will vote Dec. 5 on whether or not to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 19 to 21. The law would also bar people under 21 from buying electronic smoking devices. The legislation would amend a law passed in 2009 that changed the minimum age for buying tobacco products in the county to 19.

Joe DeForest, the chair for Cayuga County's Health and Human Services committee, said he hasn't heard any local discussions on the topic. He said he has mixed feelings on the issue. While he wouldn't encourage anyone in his family to smoke, he argued that if one is old enough to vote or serve in the military, then they should be old enough to buy tobacco products.

"In this day and age, anyone should know it's bad for you," DeForest said.

A 2013 community health assessment and improvement plan from the Cayuga County Health Department said the percentage of adult smokers in the the county as of 2008 to 2009 was around 22 percent. The current legal age to buy tobacco in the county is 18. According to a community health assessment and improvement plan from the Onondaga County Health Department, revised in September 2017, around 21 percent of adults in Onondaga County smoked as of 2013 to 2014. 

The Onondaga County Legislature's health committee endorsed the proposed law Monday. Legislator Danny Liedka, who has been the chair of the county's health committee for six years, said this kind of legislation has been considered many times before, but there have been struggles with abolishing the current law's exemption for military members.

Active duty 18-year-old military members can buy tobacco in the county, as of the 2009 law. The proposed legislation would remove the military exemption.

Liedka said a military official had spoken to the committee at a meeting about the exemption, saying the military prefers personnel to be in top physical condition and doesn't encourage tobacco use. The Legislature also received a letter from the U.S. Department of Defense on the issue the last time similar legislation was considered in the county. Liedka said the department outlined those same points.

He said research cited the number of active military members ages 18 to 21 in the county is around 200. Those people may not be in the county currently due to military commitments, he said.

Liedka said he had held reservations about similar proposals in the past due to the military exemption, but has since changed since his mind after doing some research.

He said people at the age of 19 are impressionable, and that cutting down the number of new smokers in the area ultimately benefits the community.

"If we make it harder for them to get their hands on the product, that's our goal," Liedka said.

Though Liedka said he tries to focus on facts instead of his personal opinions when considering legislation, he said he is not of fan of smoking by any means. He said both of his parents died from smoking, and that he tries to be mindful of issues involving veterans —  such as with the current law's military exemption — as his father served in the U.S. Marines.

Liedka said the proposed law would only impact the point of sale aspect of tobacco products, but wouldn't ban smoking overall.

"It's just going to stop a little bit more people from getting their hands on the product," Liedka said.

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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