With the stroke of a pen, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz signed into law Friday the Public Health Protection Act of 2018. The measure includes bans on tobacco and nicotine-containing product sales in pharmacies, smoking in NFTA bus shelters and smoking in vehicles where minors are inside.
The signing ceremony was held inside the Scott Bieler Clinical Sciences Center lobby on the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center campus in Buffalo. Joining Poloncarz to mark the occasion were Roswell Park president and chief executive officer Dr. Candace Johnson, several current Erie County legislators and one former member who helped pass the proposal, and a high school student and advocate who spoke of the frustration of watching loved ones try unsuccessfully to break their addictions to nicotine.
Zoe Kaminski, a senior at Depew High School and the Western Region Youth Advocate of the Year, spoke of the contradictions that supporters say this law will eliminate.
"It is incredibly ironic having cancer-causing products in places that are intended to have medications to help those who are ill," Kaminski said. "It is also baffling to me that adults would think it would be even remotely OK to smoke with children in their cars. Young children do not choose to be exposed to second-hand smoke. It is the adults that are at fault."
Pharmacies will have until the end of February to remove affected products from their store shelves. Enforcement of the other provisions will begin, Poloncarz explained, as soon as the formal notice of the new law is received by the state. That, he estimates, will take about a month.
The Act is a combination of three separate attempts at legislation. Former Erie County Legislator and new State Assemblymember Patrick Burke previously pushed for the ban on smoking in cars when children are inside. He admitted being "a little cocky" when introducing his bill in 2017, thinking his was an idea that no one could resist.
"Guess what? They did!" said Burke. "They found a way to disagree with the most common-sense-of-things. Unfortunately in politics and in government, the political machinations get involved and it delays good, important legislation."
Burke suggested that elections have consequences and he credited Poloncarz and Legislature Chairman Peter Savage among those who pushed for passage of the Public Health Protection Act. Poloncarz pointed out that passage was not along partisan lines, noting that Republican legislator John Mills provided support needed to see it through.
Poloncarz also considers enactment of the law as completing a year with other important legislation passed.
"We passed a brand new ethics law that really created one of the strongest ethics laws that any government has in New York State," he said. "We also passed a Fair Housing Law that creates one of the strongest fair housing laws in the country."