BEACON HILL, MA — While the legal age to buy tobacco is already 21 in many municipalities across the state – including Boston – the Massachusetts House of Representatives approved legislation Wednesday that would raise the minimum age to purchase cigarettes, tobacco or vaping products from 18 to 21.
“By raising the sales age to 21 we are attempting to prevent kids from ever starting the habit,” said Rep. Claire Hogan, from Stow, addressing her colleagues just before the House vote. “We believe this is critical to saving the lives of our young people.”
The move is aimed at discouraging teens from getting their hands on and getting addicted to tobacco in any form. Tucked into the legislation (Bill 4479) are provisions, including a ban on vaping on school grounds and public places, and a ban on the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies or shops within health care facilities.
“Smoking, simply is killing our kids,” Hogan said, noting that statistics indicated if someone starts smoking as a teen, their chances of quiting as an adult decrease. She said estimates put smoking related health care costs at $4 billion in the state.
The 146-4 vote in the House means the bill moves along to the Senate before landing on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk. If the bill passes the Senate – which actually passed something similar a couple years ago – and becomes law, it would take effect Jan. 1.
More than 170 municipalities across the state have raised the age to 21 already. This bill will make sure that laws are the same all throughout the state.
Rep. Paul McMurtry of Dedham said the bill was influenced by student groups from the 84 Movement (a student-led anti-smoking advocacy group) and representatives from Health Care organizations, including American Cancer Association which submitted testimony and research used in the bill.
Convenience store owners have been critical of the raise in age limit, saying it could have a negative impact on sales at their shops, where lottery and tobacco sales make up a large chunk of revenue. But Hogan noted it would also make the rules surrounding tobacco sales more uniform for everyone.
Massachusetts has led the way when it comes to smoking-related bans. In 1998 the legislature banned smoking tobacco in state buildings and vehicles and was the first to divest state pension funds from tobacco companies. The Attorney General at the time also made warning labels on tobacco packaging mandatory.
In 2004 Massachusetts legislature banned smoking in restaurants and bars and workplaces, one of the first states to do so. In 2016, the use of tobacco in sports venues was banned, too.
If this age limit increase passes, Massachusetts would become the sixth state to raise the age of purchase on the tobacco after New Jersey, Maine, California, Oregon and Hawaii.
“Over the years, we have made great progress here in Massachusetts in combating tobacco use – however, opportunities remain to go even further in protecting our kids from the millions of dollars Big Tobacco pours into the Commonwealth targeting our youth every year. The overwhelming House support of this legislation is a huge step in the right direction,” Marc Hymovitz, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Massachusetts, said in a statement to Patch.
“This year, more than 2,800 Massachusetts kids will become new daily smokers, and 95 percent of adults who smoke started by the age of 21. Sadly, the use of tobacco products remains the number one cause of preventable death across the country and here in Massachusetts. In addition to fully funding the state’s tobacco control program, an increase in the legal age of sale of tobacco to 21, including e-cigarettes, would once again make Massachusetts the leader in the fight against Big Tobacco and ensure that the Commonwealth has some of the strongest anti-tobacco policies in the nation,” he said in the statement.