Boston, MA – In a vote of 33 to 3, the Mass Senate approved a bill this Thursday, June 28th, that would raise the minimum age required to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. A bill which resembles the current one was also introduced in 2016, but it ultimately died soon after. Over 70% of Massachusetts cities and towns already have local legislation in place restricting tobacco purchases to consumers of 21 years or older. Needham, MA became the first to pass this local policy, back in 2005. Since then, the total of local Mass areas with these laws in place totals over 175, including the capital city of Boston.
In May, the Massachusetts House of Representatives endorsed a very similar bill; however, the current legislation in discussion has experienced a few changes from the former one. The proposed laws would not only prohibit sales of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and other tobacco smoking/vaporizing products to persons under 21 years of age; they would also prohibit use of e-cigarettes and similar products in designated “no smoking areas.” Additionally, the new legislation would outlaw the selling of tobacco products in pharmacies. Both the House and Senate must compromise both of their proposed terms into one comprehensive bill before it reaches the desk of MA Governor, Charlie Baker.
The American Lung Association has been a proud supporter of this bill. The organization’s chief division officer, Jeff Seyler, stated on behalf of the organization that they “are proud to see Massachusetts return to a leading national role on public health policy.” The additional proposed rule of restricting e-cigarette usage in public non-smoking areas is in Seyler’s mind, an additional protection for the MA public. He maintains that the bill “includes safeguards for public health by restricting the use of e-cigarettes and the public's exposure to e-cigarette emissions." Those who favor this bill argue that raising the minimum age for tobacco purchase and, theoretically, consumption to 21 has a positive effect on the health of minors. One of the most common arguments is that the prohibition of tobacco product usage to those under 21 leads to the elimination of such products in younger social circles and diminishes the role it may play in the recreational lives of youth. They claim that this legislation will lead fewer members of the younger generation to become lifetime smokers and struggle with nicotine addiction, along with many of the health problems associated with tobacco usage. According to Marc Hymovitz, the Massachusetts director of government relations for the American Cancer Society (ACS) Cancer Action Network, "Research shows that if a person does not begin smoking at a young age, they are much less likely to ever smoke." Furthermore, MA Democratic senator Jason Lewis, has called the use of these products “the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Massachusetts.” From a both financial and health-oriented standpoint, he asserts that “tobacco use and nicotine addiction is responsible for more than $4 billion annually in health care costs in Massachusetts.”
The public objection to raising the minimum age for tobacco purchase to 21 is mainly based on the idea that the law will do nothing significant to change the issue. Those in opposition to this policy assert that increasing this age limit to 21+ is not a successful measure for preventing youth from smoking cigarettes, or using other tobacco products. They claim that in states where the minimum age is 21, there have been no significant changes in average smoking rates among younger age demographics, nor have there been significant changes compared to states where the age is 18.
They also argue that the bill will be hard to enforce and that residents under the age of 21 will still find a way to smoke if they want to do so. Furthermore, they affirm that most adult smokers began when they were much younger than 18, implying that a legal limit does not prevent those under the age cutoff from becoming addicted. Furthermore, some of those against the legislation also maintain that if a person over 18 years of age is considered an adult, they should be allowed to indulge in adult activities and make their own decisions about use of products containing potentially addictive or harmful substances.
Governor Baker is expected to review the bill in the near future and determine whether or not it will be approved as a new Massachusetts law. If it were to become legal, Massachusetts would be the sixth state to have a minimum age of 21 for tobacco purchase.