Rensselaer County Calls on Kids to Start Smoking

By Fenwick Jolsen

Published June 19th, 2016

Alfie Newsome, 9, relaxes with his pet chicken and a Lucky Strike outside his Stephentown home. Meanwhile, Nubzy Grant, 10, enjoys a smoke during recess.

TROY — While Albany County last month became the third county in the state to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21, Rensselaer County has one-upped its neighbor to the west — becoming the first county in nation to lower its legal age for buying smokes from 18 to 9, officials announced Saturday.

“From Wynantskill to Petersburgh, from Stephentown to Troy, it’s time we light the smoking lamp for children everywhere,” said County Executive Sara-Beth Mittens. “We don’t follow trends, we set them. So, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, kids.”

The Albany County Legislature in early May voted 24 to 13 in favor of raising the age for tobacco sales after months of tireless lobbying by health advocates who said the measure would reduce smoking and fight heart and respiratory diseases.

But lawmakers in Rensselaer County — by a vote of 55 to 0 —decided to head in an opposite direction, believing that far more good could come from making cigarettes accessible to a much wider, and much younger, population.

“More people smoking means less people eating, so right there, we stomp out childhood obesity,” said County Legislative Chairman Sam Elliot. “We also help the local economy by increasing sales at convenient stores, and in the long run, we help address the world’s over-population problem by ensuring people die earlier. We’re helping to thin the herd, so to speak. So yeah, despite what critics might say, I think we’re acting with a tremendous social conscience.”

Norman Pampers, executive director of Peeps for a Smoke-Free Poestenkill, is one of those critics.

“What the county is doing is simply retarded,” said Pampers. “Childhood is a time when we should be filling our kids’ heads with silly dreams, like telling them they can grow up to be whatever they want and praising them profusely for artwork that really actually sucks. It is not a time when we should be bumming smokes from them.”

But fourth graders at Harry Potter Elementary School in Schaghticoke applauded the controversial measure.

“Thank fucking God,” said Reggie Thornberry, who will be turning 10 in July. “Finally, something to help me deal with the stress of Common Core.”

Velma Rodgers, Thornberry’s classmate, also welcomed the news.

“Before, I had to hitch a ride to the County Jail in Troy where’d I buy cartons of Kools off inmates while visiting my dad,” Rodgers said. “Now, being able to ride my bike two blocks down to Stewarts to buy my smokes will be so much easier. Well, at least the ride there will be, since it’s downhill. Lately, on the way back home, I’ve been noticing that I’ve been getting a little winded.”


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