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Health & Medicine

Should Legal Age to Buy Cigarettes be Raised to 21 in Onondaga County?


There’s growing momentum behind a measure that would increase the age to buy tobacco products to 21 in Onondaga County.   The legislation would target the 45 percent of tobacco users in Onondaga County who are between the ages of 18 and 24 in the hopes of curbing the addiction in that age group.  Christopher Owens is the Director for the Center for Tobacco Health Systems at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, one of at least six members of a new workgroup pushing the measure.  He says New York State is already hitting the issue from all sides.

“I think one of the great things New York State does is we have a dedicated tobacco control program and it uses a multi-faceted approach to address tobacco use.”

The T-21 initiative is meant to curb the tobacco addiction among high schoolers since E-cigarettes are specifically marketed towards that age group.  

“Young people across New York State don’t smoke as much anymore, high schoolers 14-17, however they’re using electronic nicotine delivery systems in increasingly large numbers,” says Professor of Surgery at Upstate Cancer Center Doctor Leslie Kohman.  “And we know that eventually most of those people do switch to smoke cigarettes.”

Part of the problem is the brain doesn’t mature until the age of 26.   She says that’s why risky behavior isn’t rationally thought out.

“We can’t rely upon messages to get through to vulnerable children who are exposed to advertising and peer pressure.” 

Kohman says the education of teens in combination with legislation, policy, and higher taxes is effective in limiting tobacco addiction.  

THE FACTS (American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network)

  • 20 percent of adults in Onondaga County smoke cigarettes (CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System)
  • 45 percent of tobacco users in our County are young adults, ages 18 to 24 (Community Tobacco Survey)
  • 7,600 kids become new daily smokers every year in New York State
  • Nearly 95 percent of adults who smoke started smoking before the age of 21 (Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids)

Should the policy be approved, Onondaga County will be the 9th county in New York State to raise the legal age of purchasing tobacco to 21.  But for right now, the motion needs to be approved by the county’s health committee.  Kohman says citizens need to communicate with their legislator in order to get the motion passed.

“It’s really vital that we do it in Onondaga County, both for our own county benefit and leading the way in New York State to get it passed throughout the state.” 

Cortland county and 8 other municipalities have already adopted Tobacco 21 to restrict sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products.  


The Institute of Medicine predicts that if the age of sale for tobacco is raised to 21 nationwide, there would be approximately:

  • 223,000 fewer premature deaths,
  • 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer,
  • And 4.2 million fewer years of life lost for those born between 2000 and 2019.