ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County could see a change in its tobacco sales policy before 2019.
The Board of Supervisors held a public hearing Monday in regard to raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. The board will choose whether to adopt the resolution at its regular meeting Sept. 4.
The hearing falls in line with the goal of Tobacco 21, a national campaign focused on raising the age for purchase.
Representatives from the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and Reality Check, an anti-smoking group, attended the hearing and spoke on the issue. While the majority of public speakers were in favor of raising the age for purchase, one person was not.
New York State Vapor Association President Michael Frennier said raising the age for purchase would have a minimal financial effect on his industry and only increase tobacco consumption among youths.
“What we’ve seen across the nation in the counties and the cities that have raised the age to 21, teenage smoking skyrockets the first year,” he said, “and it doesn’t go down after that.”
While some states do have a minimum age for tobacco consumption, New York does not.
Julie Hart of the American Cancer Society said she didn’t know from where Frennier was getting his statistics. She also brought up Frennier’s claims that e-cigarettes and vapes help people quit smoking.
“When it comes to smoking cessation,” she said, “we obviously want smokers to quit, and we want them to try the seven FDA approved medications because they’re proven. The FDA has not approved electronic cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool.”
Those seven products include various nicotine gums, patches, lozenges and inhalers, as well as certain anti-depressants and Chantix, which is specifically given to those who wish to quit smoking.
Caitlin O’Brien of the American Heart Association said vaporizers are the way youths are becoming smokers these days.
“Because these Juuls are so cheap — they come in pods cheaper than a pack of cigarettes, and they come in flavors like Swedish Fish, creme brulee and chocolate — so these kids are using them and picking them up not realizing that these products contain the same amount if not more nicotine than a pack of cigarettes,” she said.
Elizabeth Multop, who manages Up in Smoke in Lake Placid, said a good amount of her sales are from vape and e-liquids.
“I really noticed quite a difference around two years ago,” she said. “We had a very small amount of vapes and E-liquids in the shop, but then things really grew. We started having a lot of requests for it, so we thought well try out a few. And now it’s half of our sales every day.”
Though she disagrees with the change, Multop said it most likely wouldn’t affect her business and that youths will inevitably find ways to obtain tobacco products.
Multop said she wouldn’t peg younger folks as the only people who use vapes.
“I find it really varied,” she said. “I’m always very surprised that we get such a wide range of people to buy these. Even older folks, who have never smoked, come in and they’re interested in vaping. It’s not just the young kids that come in to purchase the vapes.
If the board approves the amendment, Essex County would be the first county in the North Country to raise the age, and it would join a number of other areas in New York that have done the same. Those include two cities — New York and Albany — and 13 counties — Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Cortland, Nassau, Onondaga, Orange, Rockland, Schenectady, Suffolk, Sullivan, Tompkins, Ulster and Westchester. States such as Massachusetts, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Maine and New Jersey have raised the age of purchase statewide to 21.