After a contentious public hearing in the middle of last month on raising the age to purchase tobacco from 19 to 21, the Suffolk County Legislature will hold a second hearing on Tuesday afternoon at its general meeting in Riverside.
Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport), a doctor himself, sponsored the measure, which saw plenty of support and opposition at the two-and-a-half hour long Feb. 11 public hearing.
Some opponents had argued that their civil liberties were being encroached upon with the raise, while business owners cited a predicted loss in sales revenue and Legislator Tom Barraga said that if health advocates were that afraid of the consequences of smoking, an outright ban on sales should be what legislators are after.
On Friday, Dr. Spencer said he respects the public’s right to purchase tobacco too much to ban sales outright — though he said developmentally, people under age 21 are still too susceptible to addiction. “I don’t think we have the right to tell an adult what to do,” he said.
“But I choose to define an adult based on the development of the brain, as opposed to to whether they can serve, they can vote, drink or work … As a public official, I think we should be making decisions based on medical evidence.”
Dr. Spencer said that 18-year-olds are three times less likely to smoke if they don’t smoke by then. He said for that 21-year-olds, the likelihood would be 10 times less.
In 2004, Suffolk passed legislation to raise the legal age to 19. It was one of the first municipalities in the country to do so. Violators could face a fine between $300 and $1,000 for a first time offense, and between $500 to $1,500 for subsequent offenses, according to the resolution.
If approved, the countywide law would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015.
The public hearing is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. at the County Center in Riverside
Scroll down to view the draft law.