Suffolk recently became the first county in the nation to pass a stringent resolution in the fight against tobacco-related products, as County Executive Steve Bellone signed a local law raising the legal age for the sale of tobacco products to 21. Joining him at the press conference were Legislator William Spencer, MD, sponsor of the law, and Cheyanne Busso, a Stony Brook University fourth-year psychology student, who was invited to share her experience with smoking and her studies on the effects of smoking on the body.
“Growing up in a household of smokers, I never understood why they couldn’t just stop,” she told the crowd of more than 50 supporters at the April 14 event. Busso became involved in educating other students on the effects of tobacco use through Stony Brook’s Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) and an internship in the Chill Peer Health Educator program. “Now not only through personal experience but through learning the biology of addiction, I fully understand that once addicted there is no longer a choice as it changes so much of your brain function.”
The Tobacco 21 law is designed to help reduce smoking rates among teens, since a large percentage of adolescents age 17 and younger are introduced to cigarettes by 18- to 20-year-olds. According to the press release for the event, individuals are three times less likely to pick up the habit if they haven’t smoked by 18, and 20 times less likely to pick up the habit if they haven’t begun smoking by 21. “Ninety percent of adults who started smoking before the age of 21 are still addicted,” said Bellone, adding that the trailblazing law will save $2.9 billion in healthcare costs.
Dr. Spencer, an enthusiastic advocate and strong leader for improving the health of Suffolk County’s communities, addressed the crowd at the signing: “A half-million people die from smoking-related illness each year, and it is 100 percent preventable.”
Among the elected officials showing support at the signing were Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn and Monica Martinez.
The Tobacco 21 law will take effect in 2015 and prohibits the sale of all tobacco products — including e-cigarettes, liquid nicotine, rolling papers and pipes — to individuals under the age of 21.