Young people may have a tougher time buying tobacco products in Amherst, where town lawmakers are weighing whether to adopt what could be the toughest tobacco law in Western New York.
Amherst is considering a series of strategies to discourage tobacco use among youth, including raising the legal age for buying tobacco products to 21, up from 18.
Also proposed for Amherst:
• Banning tobacco products in stores that have a pharmacy.
• Prohibiting the sale of tobacco products within 1,500 feet of a school.
• Forbidding the sale of flavored tobacco products.
• Eliminating the use of e-cigarettes anywhere that smoking is banned.
Amherst would be the first local community to take such a strong stance to keep tobacco out of the hands of young people, said Anthony Billoni, director of the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition. which is located at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and is part of the state Bureau of Tobacco Control.
“This is not intended to restrict adults from smoking,” Councilmember Steven D. Sanders said. “This is trying to stop the next generation of smokers from becoming addicted to tobacco products.”
Sanders is seeking the stricter local law, which would be up to Amherst police to enforce. Sanders is submitting a proposal to the rest of the Town Board Monday.
Town officials were approached about a year ago by a steering committee working with the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition, which assists communities in adopting tobacco-free initiatives, Sanders said. The committee expressed concerns about access to tobacco by minors and asked Amherst officials to toughen the local laws.
A recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated fewer middle and high school students are smoking cigarettes.
But the survey also showed a growing number are trying e-cigarettes and hookahs.
“We believe that Amherst will be a healthier community with these measures,” said Dr. Craig Schmidt, who chairs the Amherst Tobacco-Free Steering Committee. “Change is necessary to protect our youth from harmful and possible life-long tobacco addiction.”
Can Amherst impose tougher tobacco laws on its own?
Sanders wondered that, too.
“Does a municipality have a right to ban sales to individuals under 21 years old?” Sanders said. “And the answer is, ‘Yes.’ There have been court cases that have upheld a municipalities right to set the tobacco age at 21.”
The smoking age is 18 in New York State and across much of the nation, but more places have been talking about raising the age, such as New York City, which recently upped it to 21, Billoni said.
Better regulation of e-cigarettes and flavored tobaccos is also being widely discussed, Billoni said, while much of Massachusetts already has banned tobacco sales from pharmacies. CVS/pharmacy decided to end the sale of tobacco products at its stores nationwide by October.
The more local municipalities that take these steps, the more inclined higher levels of government will, too, Billoni said.
“It’s gratifying to see they put so much energy into the health of their community and especially the health of their kids.” Billoni said of Amherst.
“Cost-effective tobacco control strategies can prevent kids from smoking, help smokers quit and protect everyone from second-hand smoke.”