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Should Ontario County raise the smoking age?

Ontario County lawmakers are split on whether to pass a local law raising the legal age for smoking to 21. With arguments for and against the proposal, the county Board of Supervisors is opening up the matter for discussion Thursday. People can weigh in at a public hearing, taking place at the board meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m. at the county Safety Training facility in Hopewell.

The proposed law comes out of the board’s Health and Human Services Committee. It would raise the legal age to buy and sell tobacco and related products to age 21. The legal age is currently 18.

Mary Beer is director of Ontario County Public Health. For the record, in support of her recommendation to pass the law, Beer noted 96 percent of smokers begin before the age of 21. Ontario County has one of the highest rates for male respiratory cancer and one of the highest rates of smoking in the region, according to Beer.

Beer has other concerns such as vaping, which has been skyrocketing, and added that legislation “made a big difference in dropping down the rate of smoking after the Clean Indoor Act.”

Beer is also concerned with the direction the state is going in terms of legalizing recreational marijuana and the implications that has on the developing young mind — which is not developed fully until well into the 20s. There are 22 municipalities that have enacted this local law, according to Beer, who believes as more counties do as well, the state will follow suit.

Supervisors who have gone on record against the local law argue several points.

Phelps Town Supervisor Norm Teed, who voted in favor of the law in committee, later changed his mind. He is not in favor of any kind of tobacco use, but believes at age 18 people are old enough to make their own decision.

“If young people can join the military and risk their lives at 18, they should have the right to decide if they want to purchase tobacco,” Teed stated for the record.

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