Chautauqua Co. Legislature changes tobacco law

Posted at 6:24 PM, Apr 28, 2016

A pending law would change the legal age to purchase tobacco products in Chautauqua County from 18 years old to 21 years old.

"I honestly think it's kind of ridiculous," said Katelyn Cassidy, a smoker who is 20-years-old, when she learned of the local law.

However the more  Cassidy, a Mayville resident, talked about the law, the more she started to change her mind.

"I've woken up to my parents coughing and gagging, it's not a habit you should get into," Cassidy said. "I really do think it would be better for us."

Christine Schuyler, the Director of Health and Human Services in Chautauqua County, said that "tobacco associated illness is the number one cause of morbidity in Chautauqua County."

According to the Chautauqua County Health Department, one in four people light up in the county each month. More than 500 people die from heart disease in the area annually, many between 35- and 64-years-old. About 1,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year.

Battling addictions is another big concern.

"Once you start re-wiring the adolescent brain, you're in trouble," Schuyler said. "And that's what nicotine does."

Raising the legal age to buy tobacco is a nationwide initiative known as "Tobacco 21."

Tobacco county still has some challenges. Residents can buy tobacco products from the reservation and neighboring counties.

In addition, the law does not prevent anyone younger than 21 years old from possessing tobacco.

"As County Executive, what I'm concerned about is Chautauqua County, and we have to do the right thing here," said Vince Horrigan, the Chautauqua County Executive.

Horrigan added that in the future, the county may look into making possession of tobacco products for certain age groups illegal.

The hearing on Wednesday night before the Legislature vote lasted about one and a half hours. During that time, many educators and youth spoke in its favor.

However, business owners, including those in the electronic cigarette industry, spoke against the legislation.

The law would go into effect in October. The County Executive says a public hearing will be planned in the upcoming weeks, but as of now, he plans on signing it.