Smoking age hiked to 21 in Williston Park

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James Bradley, the Williston Park village attorney, speaks at the village Board of Trustees meeting on March 20, 2017. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

Teens now have to wait as long to legally smoke as they do to drink in Williston Park.

The village Board of Trustees unanimously voted Monday to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 from 19, making it the first Nassau County village to implement such a measure.

“It’s advantageous for all of us to try and contain smoking at a young age,” village Trustee Teresa Thomann said.

The village’s law is “very similar” to the Town of North Hempstead’s ordinance raising the tobacco purchase age in its unincorporated areas, which took effect March 1, village Attorney James Bradley said.

It prohibits vendors within the village limits from selling tobacco and electronic cigarettes, which produce a vapor that sometimes contains nicotine, to anyone younger than 21, Bradley said.

The law will take effect once it’s filed with the state Secretary of State’s office, which should happen within the next two weeks, Bradley said.

A village code enforcement officer can issue violations to any shops caught selling to younger customers, Bradley said. They’d then be hit with a civil penalty in the village Justice Court under the state’s Public Health Law.

The health law allows for fines up to $1,000 for the first violation and up to $1,500 for each subsequent violation.

The village statute also has references to the health risks smoking poses to young people, Bradley said.

Municipalities have recently approved so-called “Tobacco 21” laws to make it harder for minors to get hold of cigarettes. Suffolk County and New York City have them in place, but the smoking age in other parts of Nassau County is 19.

North Hempstead officials have cited research from the Public Health and Tobacco Policy Center showing 90 percent of daily smokers start before they turn 18, and that most people who give tobacco to minors are between the ages of 18 and 21.

Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth has encouraged the town’s 31 incorporated villages to raise the smoking age so the law is consistent within its borders.

“The more the Town of North Hempstead and its surrounding villages can put forth a united front when it comes to the purchase of tobacco products, the better news it is for the health of our young people,” Bosworth said in a statement Tuesday.

In June, Williston Park approved a ban on business that allow smoking or the use of electronic cigarettes on the premises, such as hookah bars.

Other villages, including New Hyde Park and Mineola, also approved regulations for shops that sell electronic cigarettes.

Also on Tuesday, Williston Park trustees tabled a proposal from Verizon Wireless to install new cellular antennas on top of a Hillside Avenue building.

Verizon wants to install a wireless communication facility and a backup power generator housed in brick-covered “penthouses” on the roof of 270-74 Hillside Ave., a commercial building, Denise Vista, an attorney for Verizon, said.

The structures would make the building a total of 42 feet and 11 inches tall, about eight feet above its current height, Vista said.

The antennas are needed to improve Verizon’s coverage on a three-mile stretch of Hillside Avenue and to take pressure off of nearby facilities in Williston Park and Searingtown, said Martin Lavin, the company’s radio frequency consultant.

Some residents expressed concerns about the possible health effects of the equipment’s radio waves and noise from the power generator.

Diane Thorpe, one of those residents, said the tall penthouses are inconsistent with the village’s character.

Erin Echevarria, a Verizon engineering consultant, said the generator would not make the area any more than three decibels louder, a difference that “would not really be perceptible.”

The Board of Trustees is considering the proposal and plans to hold another hearing on it in April, Mayor Paul Ehrbar said.

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