WOODBURY - County Executive Steve Bellone is expected to sign a law on Monday that would make Suffolk the first county in the nation to raise the tobacco-purchasing age to 21.

The law was proposed back in November by Legislator William Spencer, of Centerport, who is also a physician. He says there's evidence that people who get addicted to smoking before age 21 have a much harder time stopping.

"I'm not trying to take that right away from adults," Spencer says, "but when we have evidence that the brain is not fully developed, and we're talking about a lifetime of addiction, that's why we need to do this." The legislator says the law will save lives.

The county Legislature voted to make the bill a law last month, even though it has been met with criticism by some who say it infringes on civil liberties and will affect local businesses.

Michael Watt, executive director of the Long Island Gas Retailers Assocation, says the legislation is well-intentioned, but flawed on multiple fronts. "It's really a question of whether 19- or 20-year-olds are capable of making their own decisions," he says. "It also indicates yet another step by Suffolk County to make it more difficult for mom-and-pop retailers to exist."

New York City has passed a similar age restriction, while Nassau County lawmakers recently decided not to bring the matter to a vote.

After Bellone signs the law, it will take effect next year.