CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated a public hearing was scheduled for April, however it has been recommended for April. 

ITHACA  — Tompkins County has moved a step closer to raising the purchasing age of tobacco to 21. The Health and Human Services Committee voted in favor of the law Monday and recommended scheduling a public hearing in April.

Raising the purchasing age of tobacco, e-cigarettes, shisha and smoking paraphernalia is meant to reduce the number of smokers under the age of 21.

The topic of raising the purchasing age of tobacco to 21 has been discussed since last summer after a law was successfully implemented in Albany County. On Monday, the Health and Human Services committee voted 3 to 1 in favor of moving the law forward. The law must now go to a public hearing and before Tompkins County Legislature.

If approved by Tompkins County Legislature, the public hearing will be scheduled for 5:30 p.m. April 18 in Tompkins County Legislative Chambers, 121 E. Court St., Ithaca.

An Institute of Medicine report from 2015 projected that if the minimum legal age is raised to 21, the tobacco use initiation rate would decrease by about 15 percent for youth under 15, by 25 percent for youth ages 15 to 17 and by a little more than 15 percent for ages 18 to 20.

The study projects that if the minimum age were raised today, by the time teenagers were adults, there would be a 12 percent decrease in the prevalence of tobacco use among those adults. Though changing the purchasing age to 21 will primarily affect people between the ages of 18 and 21, the study still concludes that the largest reduction in initiation of tobacco use will occur between teenagers ages 15 to 17.

The proposed law would not criminalize people under 21 for smoking, but it would penalize vendors who sell to people who are under 21. People who violate the law could be subject to fines.

Legislator Anna Kelles, D-Ithaca, has said she supports raising the purchasing age from a public health standpoint. In a previous interview with The Ithaca Voice, Kelles said three years does make a difference, and people are much more likely to be a smoker for life if they begin smoking while their brain is still developing.

On the other hand, Legislator Mike Sigler previously said people who are 21 would certainly make better decisions in general, but 18-year-olds now make decisions on taking on tens of thousands of dollars in debt to go to college, to go to war, to donate organs and many other things that come with legally being an adult.

Read more: Q&A with legislators: should Tompkins County approve increase in tobacco purchase age?

Read the background materials and draft law below:

Draft: Background on T21 in Tompkins County by Kelsey O’Connor on Scribd

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.