December 4, 2021

County considers new tobacco restrictions

Cortland County legislators are reviewing a resolution to limit access to tobacco products in pharmacies and make it illegal to smoke in certain places.

“For the health of the children, I support it,” said Legislator Sandra Price (D-Virgil, Harford).

The text of a similar effort in Erie County was presented earlier this month at the Health and Human Services meeting, of which Price is the vice chairwoman.

The Erie County Legislature unanimously passed its Public Health Protection Act in 2018. It included three bans:

  • Smoking of any kind in a vehicle with a child.
  • Marketing and sale of tobacco or nicotine-containing products in pharmacies and other health care institutions.
  • Smoking in or near bus shelters, with a $50 fine for the first offense and increases the penalty $50 for additional fines.

New York’s Clean Indoor Air Act already restricts smoking and vaping in most public areas and the access points to them, including hospitals, residential health facilities and playgrounds. In 2016, the county banned tobacco sales to people under 21, years ahead of the state and one of the first 150 communities in America to do so.

Now, Cortland County legislators on the committee are calculating whether the same thing can be done here and are set to discuss the topic at their Oct. 10 meeting.

“We totally support the concept of no sale in pharmacies,” said county Public Health Director Catherine Feuerherm. Enforcement of that ban would fall to her department, but the Legislature would need to change the county sanitation code.

She also noted the health department already checks to make sure places aren’t selling to minors, but added that some pharmacies have already stopped selling tobacco products.

CVS Pharmacy stopped selling the products in 2014, said Jennifer Hamilton, the coordinator of Cortland’s tobacco free program. Kinney Drugs has already removed e-cigarettes.

Hamilton said smoking near children is likely to trigger asthma attacks, ear infections and cause them to get sick. Suffolk County and New York City have already passed pharmacy laws and Rockland County has passed legislation on both selling in pharmacies and smoking in vehicles with children.

“Reducing access is going to be a good thing,” said Matt Whitman, director Cortland Area Communities that Care.

Feuerherm said her department is continuing to talk with policy makers at the state Bureau of Tobacco Control, which helps counties with legal technical assistance and policy support.

Her department would not be in charge of enforcing the other two bans. That enforcement is likely to fall to police agencies.

However, enforcing those aspects of the act may not be as easy, Sheriff Mark Helms said.

“There would be no easy way for us to handle that,” he said. “Any new additions they make for law enforcement taxes us because we’re spread really thin now.”