OLEAN, N.Y. — The Cattaraugus County Board of Health voted Wednesday to recommend to the Cattaraugus County Legislature a local law increasing the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Dr. Joseph Bohan, president of the board of health, called for the debate after last month discussing a new Chautauqua County law that increases the age to 21 to buy tobacco products and e-cigarettes.

Dr. Kevin Watkins, county public health director, said the leading causes of death in the county — including heart disease, cancer and diabetes — are all associated with smoking. The county has the third-highest rate of adult smokers in the state, 28 percent.

Longtime board of health member Sondra Fox of Olean has frequently advocated increasing the age to buy tobacco products. She was very happy with the board’s recommendation Wednesday.

Dr. Gilbert Witte, the Cattaraugus County Health Department’s medical director, agreed with the recommendation, saying there was ample evidence that smoking is a factor in the four leading causes of death in the county.

Board member Richard Haberer of Franklinville, said that while he is moved by the evidence that tobacco is responsible a large number of premature deaths, he is reluctant to impose a higher age restriction.

Haberer still voted for the measure, saying the Legislature was the place for the debate. A local law would require public hearings before passage, he said.

Legislature Majority Leader Donna Vickman, R-Farmersville, a legislative representative to the health board, said she would sponsor a local law to increase the age to 21. Vickman did not say when she planned to have the proposed law prepared and introduced.

Watkins said the high state excise tax on tobacco products has not had the same effect of reducing adult smoking in Cattaraugus County as it has statewide because tax-free cigarettes are readily available on area Native American territories.

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