Legislature Raises Tobacco Purchasing Age to 21 Statewide

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Legislature last month passed legislation seeking to reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction among youth across the Commonwealth, with new regulations that were signed into law by Governor Baker on July 27th. The bill, An Act to protect youth from the health risks of tobacco and nicotine addiction, raises the legal age to purchase all tobacco and nicotine products to 21, while additionally expanding Massachusetts’ Smoke-Free Workplace Laws to include e-cigarettes and vapes. This expansion creates simplified standards for smoking and vaping, ensuring that newer tobacco and vapor products will be regulated under the same guidelines used for traditional tobacco products.

“As new products have been introduced with mechanisms to appeal to teens and children, it was time that our laws caught up and reflected public health recommendations to reduce harm from tobacco. This new law is an important step in addressing newer technology and ensuring that we do everything we can as a Commonwealth to reduce nicotine addiction and protect youth in our communities,” said Representative Tackey Chan.

Tobacco and nicotine use remain a leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in the Commonwealth, with more than $4 billion spent annually in Massachusetts on smoking-related healthcare costs. In 2012, the U.S. Surgeon General reported that 90 percent of smokers try smoking before age 18 and 75 percent of teen smokers continue to smoke into adulthood. Studies show the most effective way to lower smoking rates is to prevent teenagers from trying tobacco in the first place; the Institute of Medicine released a 2015 study that found that increasing the minimum age of legal access to tobacco products to 21 years old will prevent or delay initiation of tobacco use by adolescents and young adults.

"This legislation is an important step towards reducing the harm caused to youth by tobacco products,” said Senator John Keenan. “I am disappointed we were not able to further protect our young people by banning flavored tobacco products, which specifically target youth, and hope to continue working on this in the future, as our students have made it clear that they want these products out of our schools and communities.”

In addition to raising the purchasing age and expanding smoke-free workplace laws, the legislation bans healthcare institutions from selling tobacco or vapor products; prohibits the use of tobacco or vapor products on school grounds and in nursing homes; prohibits vaping products from being sold in vending machines; restricts manufacturers or retailers from distributing free samples of tobacco products, except in retail tobacco stores and smoking bars; codifies into law the Attorney General’s regulations requiring child-resistant packaging for nicotine substances and containers; and establishes a legislative commission to study and provide recommendations regarding the vaping industry.

“This legislation is not only an important public health victory, but it also eliminates the confusion caused by a patchwork of local ordinances in favor of a uniform legal age of purchase for tobacco products across the Commonwealth,” said Representative Ronald Mariano.

While more than 170 cities and towns across Massachusetts had already put into place bans on purchasing cigarettes under the age of 21, Quincy did not have any additional regulations. Massachusetts joins five other states – California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and Oregon – in establishing a statewide minimum sales age of 21.

The new law takes effect December 31, 2018; however, individuals who turn 18 before this date are exempt from the act’s minimum sales age requirement.