House Votes to Raise Tobacco Sales Age to 21

Representative Mike Connolly joined his Cambridge and Somerville colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass legislation that seeks to reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction among youth across the Commonwealth. H.4479, An Act to protect youth from the health risks of tobacco and nicotine addictionwill prohibit the sale of all tobacco, including nicotine delivery products, and other vapor products to individuals under the age of 21. Additionally, the bill expands Massachusetts’ Smoke-Free Workplace Law to include e-cigarettes and vapes, thereby ensuring that all tobacco and vapor products will be banned in establishments where the use of traditional tobacco is currently prohibited.

Cambridge and Somerville have already raised the minimum sales age for tobacco products to 21 years old, and overall, more than 170 cities and towns in Massachusetts have already adopted so-called "Tobacco 21" laws. With this legislation, Massachusetts will join five other states who have established a statewide minimum sales age of 21, including California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and Oregon. Needham, Mass. pioneered this movement in 2005 by becoming the first municipality in the country to raise the tobacco sales age to 21.

“I am proud to support this legislation because it will ultimately save lives by limiting tobacco use among children and young adults,” said Rep. Mike Connolly. "We know that the most effective way to prevent smoking-related illnesses is to prevent teens from taking up the habit in the first place, and I am proud to say that this legislation will do just that."

“When teens start smoking, studies show that they often become smokers for life,” said Representative Kate Hogan, Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “Youth are particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction and fall victim every day to the damaging effects nicotine has on the developing brain, heart, and lungs. The legislation passed by the House aims to prevent our kids from starting a dangerous habit that can last a lifetime.”

“I applaud Speaker DeLeo and Public Health Chair Kate Hogan on their continued commitment and leadership to save lives and reduce healthcare costs in the Commonwealth” said Representative Paul McMurtry, lead sponsor of the bill. “I am equally as grateful for the passionate support of 103 of our colleagues who stood with us in a courageous effort to save youth from a lifelong addiction to nicotine and tobacco related products”.   

Additionally, this bill will:

  • Ban healthcare institutions from selling tobacco products or vapor products;
  • Prohibit the use of tobacco products or vapor products on school grounds and buses and at school-sponsored events;
  • Restrict manufacturers or retailers from distributing free samples of tobacco products in commercial establishments, excluding in retail tobacco stores and smoking bars; and
  • Codify in law the Attorney General’s regulations requiring child-resistant packaging for nicotine substances and containers.

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.

The legislation takes effect December 31, 2018. Individuals who turn 18 before this date would be exempt from the act’s minimum sales age requirement.

The bill now moves to the Senate.