GOP proposes countywide raise in age to buy tobacco after years of party opposition

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Nassau County Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

A bill proposed by members of the Nassau County Legislature’s Republican majority may make a 21 or older requirement to purchase tobacco uniform across the county.

The GOP-backed bill follows years of opposition to the law introduced most recently by Legislator Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview), and previously by his predecessor Judy Jacobs, who died in 2016.

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said he believes the votes are now there on both sides for the bill, which the Rules Committee is scheduled to consider on May 7, to pass.

The bill would only change the laws in a “small sliver of the county,” Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said, noting that the towns of North Hempstead and Hempstead already require tobacco purchasers to be 21.

In the past, those opposed to the bill thought 19 and 20-year-olds have the ability to make decisions themselves, Nicolello said.

However, “with the use of vaping products being used for marijuana paraphernalia as well as vaping products in schools and problems developing there,” Nicollelo said the majority thought it was time to reconsider.

The bill states that raising the legal age to 21 means “those who can legally obtain tobacco are less likely to be in the same social networks as high school students,” limiting the prevalent electronic cigarette devices in high schools that have “normalized tobacco use.”

If the law passes stores would be fined for selling tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, herbal cigarettes, rolling papers and and electronic cigarettes.

A first penalty fine would range from $300 to $1,000, and additional fines for subsequent violations would range from $500 to $1,500.

Drucker said the legislation is long overdue.

“It’s something that is so important,” Drucker said. “It’s a piece of legislation that’s going to save lives.” 

Drucker said he’s happy and gratified that the majority recognized this change needs to be done in a  bipartisan way.

Drucker added that he hopes the bill harbors a new level of cooperation among the two parties going forward on legislation “that aren’t of political nature,” but rather are about quality of life and human nature.

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