Kicking Butts in New England; MA to Raise Smoking Age to 21

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Congratulation to the state of Massachusetts for raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products and cigarettes to 21, from 18. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, signed the bill into law late last week, and the new law will take effect in five months, on New Year's Eve.

The measure also includes added restrictions on e-cigarette purchase and use. The Bay State becomes the sixth state in the U.S. to raise its legal age to 21, joining California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon.

In addition to the age change, the bill also prohibits the sale of tobacco products from pharmacies that offer health services, a move that will make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to do so. The bill also bans smoking itself on school grounds, regardless of whether it's a primary, secondary or vocational school. 

"By taking steps to restrict access to products we know cause disease and premature death, the Commonwealth acted to protect our children," stated Alain Chaoui, the president of the Massachusetts Medical Society," and significantly decreased the chances that their health will one day be compromised by the harmful effects of tobacco use." 

The law also (and some might say, fairly) carves out purchasing exemptions for those young adults who turn 18 prior to Dec. 31, since they did, or would have had, the legal right to buy cigarettes prior to this measure. That exemption will be phased out over time, which will provide an even greater benefit to public health given the state is teeming with dozens of colleges and universities made up of 18-to-21-year olds. That number includes at least 21 four-year institutions in the Boston area alone.

As a harm reduction and smoking cessation device, the regulations surrounding e-cigarettes could be better – for instance, they cannot be used where tobacco products are banned. Yet that said, even one manufacturer backs the measure. 

"We want to keep JUUL out of the hands of young people," said spokesman Matt David "and we believe raising the minimum purchase age is a step in the right direction."

Meanwhile, the Ameican Cancer Society endorsed the action taken by state legislators, saying that "the tobacco industry uniquely targets young people to replace consumers dying from their products, and too many of our children are becoming addicted before they even have a chance to grow up.

"This legislation has the potential to reduce smoking rates in our state," adds the ACS, "and ensure our kids live longer, healthier lives."