The smoking age in Massachusetts could soon be 21, as lawmakers push for a statewide change that would raise the legal age for purchasing cigarettes, which currently stands at 18.
Writes The Associated Press on Nov. 28, via the New York Times: “Nearly 60 representatives and senators have signed on to a bill that would make it illegal to sell tobacco to people under 21, with penalties ranging from $100 to $300 for repeat violations. The Legislature’s Public Health Committee could decide next year whether to advance the bill. The minimum legal age for tobacco sales has emerged in recent years as a new front in the battle to curb smoking.”
The minimal age to purchase tobacco products currently is at least 18 for all U.S. states. Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah have all adopted a 19 year age limit, and some state municipalities, such as Hawaii County, and certain counties in and around New York City, have all raised the purchase age to 21. Over 90 counties and individual cities across the nation have raised the age to purchase tobacco.
The Boston suburb of Needham, back in in 2005, was the first city to set their own minimum age at 21. Dozens of communities have since followed, and the state on December 17 will vote on the proposal to set the purchase of tobacco products at the same nationwide age to purchase liquor.
“It is our responsibility to do what we can to guide our young people and create a healthier future for all Bostonians. We know the consequences of tobacco use are real and can be devastating,” commented Boston’s mayor Marty Walsh, who proposed the legislation.
A report in March from the National Institute of Medicine said that over the past five decades, an increase in public awareness of the dangers of smoking have resulted in 8 million fewer premature deaths. Still, an estimated 40 million people in the U.S. light up, and almost every one of them began smoking in their teens.
“Among adults who become daily smokers, approximately 90 percent report first use of cigarettes before reaching 19 years of age, and almost 100 percent report first use before age 26,” the study said. “Raising the minimal age of legal access to 21 will mean that those who can legally obtain tobacco are less likely to be in the same social networks as high school students.”
Standing as opposed to the initiative in Massachusetts are some retailers and convenience and gas station store operators, who say they will lose significant revenue if the state raises the legal age from 18 to 21.
The Coalition for Responsible Retailing – a group of Massachusetts retailers who are “committed to keeping tobacco out of the hands of minors” – argued that the proposed ordinance was “unjustified and misguided,” and that while the desire to curb underage smoking is sound, there are more effective ways to achieve that goal that would not harm retailers. “Ideally we would want [the smoking age] to stay at 18. There are other ways to get at youth smoking,” the group said.
What do you think? Should Massachusetts raises their smoking age?