More Massachusetts Towns Raise Cigarette Buying Age

Should a statewide age increase be next?


cigarette image via shutterstock

When Needham increased the tobacco buying age in town from 18 to 21 back in 2005, it became the first of what is now 15 Massachusetts communities to raise the age to either 19 or 21, according the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA).

Newburyport recently became the latest Mass. community to increase the legal buying age to 19, and it goes into effect July 1. Robert Bracey, Newburyport director of public health, says that the board voted this way in an effort to keep tobacco out of the hands of high school students.

Northeastern University banned smoking on campus last year, and although these efforts sound good in theory, not everyone is convinced that it will make a difference. DJ Wilson, tobacco control director at the MMA, says that there is scant data to show that raising the age limit to buy tobacco will reduce the number of smokers.

“It worked in alcohol. It should work to the public health advantage,” Wilson says. “Most of us over 50 remember when [the drinking age] was 18, and most towns would agree you’d never go back to 18 for alcohol. It has slowed down the usage.”

Wilson says that the desire to keep cigarettes out of teenage hands has been propelled by data suggesting that the earlier smokers start, the harder it is to quit. “We all know someone who started smoking at 11, 12, 13. If we can move that up to 21 . . . they will have less health damage and an easier chance to quit,” he says.

According to a report by the MMA:

Along with Needham, communities that have raised the legal purchasing age to 21 include Sharon, Arlington, Canton, Ashland, Dedham, Dover, Wellesley, Scituate, Hudson, Norwood, Winchester, Wakefield and Reading. In addition to Newburyport, communities that raised it to 19 are: Brookline, Belmont, Watertown, Westwood, Walpole, and Sudbury.

More changes are on the horizon, too. In New York City, the tobacco purchasing age will go from 18 to 21 this spring. Newton, Mass. is said to be the next in line to raise the age. CVS will cease all tobacco sales in its 7,600 CVS/Pharmacy stores nationwide by October 1st of this year.

Entire states are also making the change. Alaska, Alabama, Utah, and New Jersey have all pushed the legal age to 19. Could Massachusetts be next? Here’s hoping.