Syracuse, NY (March 28, 2017) – Local business and community leaders have formed a new workgroup to educate the community on the health benefits of raising the age of sale for tobacco to 21 years old (“Tobacco 21”) in Onondaga County.

The workgroup was created in September 2016 as an offshoot of the Tobacco Action Coalition of Onondaga County, and presented its first petition to the County legislature in November to encourage elected officials, community organizations, corporate decision makers and community members in Onondaga County to decrease the social acceptability and reduce the burden of tobacco usage in our community. Members include: American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), American Heart Association, St. Joseph’s Health, Upstate Medical University, Tobacco Free Network of CNY, New York State Department of Health and Community Advocates.

“Tobacco 21 is a key strategy to reduce tobacco use among young adults, in turn leading to a healthier future for our community and its residents,” said Leslie Kohman, MD, spokesperson for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Director of Outreach at Upstate Cancer Center. “This coalition of six organizations has come together to educate our local elected officials and community members about the importance of Tobacco 21 and the impact that it would have on our communities’ health and well-being.”


  • 20 percent of adults in Onondaga County smoke cigarettes (CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System) 
  • 45 percent of tobacco users in our County are young adults, ages 18 to 24 (Community Tobacco Survey)
  • 7,600 kids become new daily smokers every year in New York State
  • Nearly 95 percent of adults who smoke started smoking before the age of 21(Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids)

The Institute of Medicine predicts that if the age of sale for tobacco is raised to 21 nationwide, there would be approximately:

  • 223,000 fewer premature deaths,
  • 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer,
  • And 4.2 million fewer years of life lost for those born between 2000 and 2019.

“The U.S. Surgeon General has called smoking a pediatric epidemic,” said Christopher Owens, Director of the CNY Regional Center for Tobacco Health Systems at St. Joseph’s Health. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, it is expected that 280,000 of the kids currently alive will die prematurely from smoking in New York. “These frightening statistics can be seen at a more local level as reported by the Prevention Network, similar to the country as a whole. In Onondaga County, 13 percent of our youth have smoked cigarettes,” Owens added.


This group is collecting letters of support from other local companies and organizations, working hard to garner community support to present to the Onondaga County Legislature and encourage our County officials to vote in favor of raising the age of sale for tobacco products in the coming months. In addition to the members of the workgroup, more than 30 other local organizations have submitted letters in support of Tobacco 21. And the group is continuing to solicit support.

The group has also shared the results of an Onondaga County Legislature survey on Tobacco 21, available at Results so far have shown that the majority of community respondents are in favor of raising the age of sale for tobacco products (70%), and that e-cigarettes should be included as a tobacco product in relation to any tobacco control laws (82%).


Based on a New York State Department of Health Bureau of Tobacco Control Statshot, 68 percent of adult residents in NYS support Tobacco 21, including 60 percent of current smokers. This is evident with the number of Tobacco 21 policies enacted throughout New York State. So far, the following municipalities have enacted Tobacco 21:

  • New York City
  • Suffolk County
  • Cattaraugus County
  • Chautauqua County
  • Cortland County
  • Albany County
  • Schenectady County
  • Town of North Hempstead, NY
  • Orange County


Community members interested in learning more about the Tobacco 21 bill can visit to sign a petition to raise the sale age of tobacco in New York State to 21.

Funding for this initiative is provided by Trinity Health’s Transforming Communities Initiative. St. Joseph’s Health is a member of Trinity, and a lead organization in this collaborative effort.


St. Joseph’s Health is a non-profit regional health care system based in Syracuse, N.Y., providing services to patients throughout Central New York and northern Pennsylvania. From primary to specialty to home care, to our Magnet-recognized hospital, and in collaboration with our community partners, St. Joseph’s Health is advancing the health of the communities we serve through an expanding range of healthcare services to ensure our patients achieve optimum long-term health. Ranked by Consumer Reports among the top 15 heart surgery centers in the country, U.S. News “Best Regional Hospital” and a 15-time winner of the National Research Corporation Consumer Choice award, St. Joseph’s is widely recognized for quality, value and delivering the highest patient satisfaction. St. Joseph’s Health is affiliated with Franciscan Companies and St. Joseph’s Physicians and is a part of Trinity Health.

ABOUT THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY CANCER ACTION NETWORK, INC. ACS CAN, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, supports evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. ACS CAN works to encourage elected officials and candidates to make cancer a top national priority. ACS CAN gives ordinary people extraordinary power to fight cancer with the training and tools they need to make their voices heard. For more information, visit 

The region’s largest employer, Upstate Medical University is the only academic medical center in Central New York, serving the state from Canada to Pennsylvania with its educational, clinical and research missions. A highlight of Upstate’s leading role in the region is its ability to ensure access to vital one-of-a-kind services, such as burn and trauma care and an array of highly specialized stroke, cancer, neurosurgical and pediatric services. which it offers through its 715-bed Upstate University Hospital, Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and the Upstate Cancer Center. In addition to its clinical mission, Upstate, which is one of the State University of New York (SUNY)’s 64 campuses, enrolls 1,600 students and offers degrees in medicine, nursing and a variety of health professions, and conducts more than $30 million in funded research. For more information, visit