BELMONT — Elevating the tobacco purchase age is a Swiss-cheese approach to trying to eliminate youth smoking in Allegany County, the New York Association of Convenience Stores said in a statement to The Spectator. 

“With three neighboring counties still at 18, Pennsylvania still at 18, and the entire region awash in cheap, untaxed cigarettes emanating from nearby Native American enterprises, the proposed 21 purchase age, regrettably, is doomed to fail,” said NYACS President Jim Calvin.

The Allegany County Board of Legislators is considering a proposal to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products in the county from 18 to 21. A public hearing on the proposed Tobacco 21 law is scheduled for April 9 at 2 p.m. in legislative chambers.

In response, the NYACS said that younger teen smokers generally get cigarettes not from stores, but from social sources – older relatives and friends who can legally buy them, including 18, 19 and 20-year-olds, whom they’re more likely to interact with. The proposed local law is premised on a theory that if you eliminate the ability of 18, 19 and 20-year-old smokers to legally buy cigarettes, they’ll all quit smoking and break the chain of supply to younger kids, the NYACS reasoned. 

“But wouldn’t these older teen smokers be as resourceful as younger teens in accessing cigarettes illegally? Don’t they have any older friends or relatives who smoke? Wouldn’t they be able to drive to adjacent counties or Pennsylvania where the legal purchase age remains 18? Or visit nearby Native American businesses that aren’t even subject to health department monitoring to detect underage sales? The reality is that the chain of supply would remain intact,” Calvin said.

“Allegany County convenience store operators are committed to the goal of preventing youth access to tobacco, as evidenced by their outstanding compliance record on undercover health department inspections,” said Calvin. “But the reality is that younger teens will continue to be able to get cigarettes through social sources. Why should small businesses have to forfeit legitimate sales for a public policy that won’t work?”

The better solution, he said, would be making it illegal for Allegany County teenagers to possess tobacco.

“Despite all the hand-wringing about the health toll of underage tobacco use, the county’s policy regarding kids who get cigarettes from Uncle Joe, Ralphie down the block, or Mommy’s pocketbook is ‘smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.’ By passing a local law making it a civil violation for minors to possess tobacco, you could take away the cigarettes they obtain illegally, and force them to attend a smoking cessation class – getting to the heart of the teen smoking problem.”

The New York Association of Convenience is a private, not-for-profit trade organization representing neighborhood mini-marts and convenience stores in Allegany County and across the state, most of which are licensed by the State of New York to sell legal tobacco products to adult customers in accordance with federal, state and local standards. NYACS is a New York State Department of Health-approved provider of certified tobacco sales training to retail personnel.