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Lawmakers discuss raising tobacco purchase age

ALBANY -- Right now, you have to be at least 18 years old to buy a pack of cigarettes. But if a group of downstate lawmakers has its way, it would be another three years before people can light up, which would mean lights out for millions.
Research from lawmakers shows that smokers in their early teens get tobacco from legal kids in their late-teens. They believe raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco from eighteen to twenty-one will prevent young people from becoming addicted.
Kevin Guy has been smoking for a few years. He's twenty-one now and if the minimum smoking age was increased, this might be his first legal cigar.
"It feels like they're just in a race to see who can make the most outrageous laws," Guy said.
A proposal to make the minimum age to buy any tobacco 21 instead of 18 comes out of New York City -- the same place that tried to limit the sale of sugary drinks.
"I don't think we're becoming a 'nanny state' when it comes to smoking cessation," said State Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island). "I think we're becoming a national leader. There's no redeeming characteristic to cigarette smoking."
Lawmakers believe they're lighting up a healthier state.
"This will spare untold numbers of people from getting sick, from suffering greatly from lung cancer and from costing the state millions of dollars in healthcare costs," said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan).
But, New York collects big money on cigarettes, more than four dollars a pack.
"When you're eighteen you are an adult at that point you can vote and I feel you have the right to choose whether or not you want to purchase tobacco," said Pam Zyniecki, co-owner of Edleez Tobacco. it has been a Capital Region landmark for over thirty years. Zyniecki says New York is already smoked out of the economic competition.
"Everyone can jump in their car and go to another state, they can fill up their gas tank, they can have lunch, they can buy their tobacco products, and then come back to New York State," Zyniecki said.
There are four states in which the age to purchase cigarettes or cigars is nineteen. State Senator Savino says in a budget of $140 billion, the state can absorb the loss from tobacco purchasers aged eighteen to twenty-one if this proposal becomes law.
The state does collect a lot of money overall from cigarettes. New York State brought in more than $1.5 billion last year.  In ancillary collections, just over $100 million of that was for tobacco product fees. More than $1.5 million came from retail license fees, and it raked in $23,000 on vending machine fees.
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