Massachusetts Considers Raising Smoking Age To 21

Massachusetts is considering raising its smoking age to 21, citing public health concerns as well as the desire to keep tobacco products out of the hands of teenagers, CBS News is reporting.

Boston is already considering raising the smoking age to 21 inside the city limits, but another plan, backed by academics and public health advocates, would make the smoking age uniform throughout the Bay State. Several Massachusetts communities have already raised their smoking age to 21, including the Boston suburb of Needham, which was the first municipality in Massachusetts to do so.

Ryan Kearney, general counsel for the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (who opposes raising the smoking age), says that retailers that sell tobacco would prefer a singular statewide smoking age rather than the “hodgepodge” of municipal ordinances across Massachusetts’ cities and towns.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh supported raising the smoking age within the city.

“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.”

Almost 60 Massachusetts legislators have expressed their support for a proposed bill to raise the smoking age to 21 statewide. Anyone who sells tobacco to a person under 21 would be fined $100, with increasing penalties up to $300 for repeated violations.

Supporters of the bill believe that raising the smoking age to 21 would help prevent youth smoking. Brian King, a deputy director in the (Centers for Disease Control) CDC Office on Smoking and Health, said in a statement via the Christian Science Monitor that a smoking age of 21 keeps teens from becoming tobacco users.

“Raising the minimum age of sale to 21 could benefit the health of Americans in several ways. It could delay the age of first experimenting with tobacco, reducing the likelihood of transitioning to regular use and increasing the likelihood that those who do become regular users can quit.”

Boston Children’s Hospital pediatrician Dr. Claire McCarthy agrees.

“I say raise it. It would translate not only into less tobacco use but less disease and death. But we’d save even more lives if parents did more talking to their kids – about tobacco, about life as a teen, about anything and everything.”

No everyone in Massachusetts is on board with the idea of a statewide smoking age of 21. Retailers’ organization The Coalition for Responsible Retailing argues that raising the smoking age to 21 is “unjustified and misguided.”

“Ideally we would want [the smoking age] to stay at 18. There are other ways to get at youth smoking.”

Some of those “other ways” include closing loopholes in Massachusetts law that don’t punish persons — parents, older friends and relatives — who buy tobacco products themselves and then provide them to minors.

Raising the smoking age to 21 would likely have an effect on Massachusetts’ state tax revenues. Taxes on cigarettes alone brought $510 million into the Bay State’s coffers, with much of that money going to subsidizing health insurance costs. Massachusetts taxes cigarettes at $3.51 per pack.

Outside of Massachusetts, other places have raised their smoking ages to 21. New York City raised the smoking age to 21 in 2013; in June 2015, Hawaii became the first state to institute a statewide smoking age of 21.

Smoking in general, and teen smoking in particular, is on the decline in the United States. According to a September Health Day report, just fifteen percent of adults in the U.S. smoke, down from a high of 42 percent in 1965.

Similarly, about nine percent of teens admitted to smoking in the last 30 days in 2014, according to the CDC, down from almost 16 percent in 2011.

Do you believe Massachusetts is right to raise its smoking age? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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