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Baker supports ban on tobacco sales to those under 21

Days before the state Senate is scheduled to debate a bill that would raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco, Gov. Charlie Baker says he supports banning the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to people under 21.

Baker said Friday that he supports the idea of raising the age from 18 to 21, but would need to see the bill’s final language before deciding whether to sign it.

Supporters of the bill hope to discourage more young people from taking up smoking. Dozens of cities and towns, including Boston, have already approved such bans.

The bill would allow anyone who turns 18 before Jan. 1, 2017, to continue buying tobacco. The bill would include new regulations for e-cigarettes and ban tobacco sales at health care institutions.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said earlier this week that the “next big matter before the Senate will be raising the legal age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21.”

Based on eight separate tobacco bills filed by House and Senate lawmakers this session, the Joint Committee on Public Health put together a bill dubbed “An Act to protect youth from the health risks of tobacco and nicotine addiction” that is now before the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and is slated to hit the Senate floor in formal session on April 28.


Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat who co-chairs the Public Health Committee, described the bill’s three main provisions — a three-year increase in the age for tobacco sales, a ban on sales in pharmacies, and the addition of e-cigarettes to the state’s anti-smoking laws — as “proven strategies for reducing nicotine addiction among young people.”

In 2005, Needham became the first municipality in the country to ban tobacco sales to people under 21. Nearly 100 Massachusetts communities have since followed suit, with most lifting the sale age from 18 to 21 and some raising it to 19, Lewis said.

In 2014, Westminster’s failed tobacco ban began when members of the town’s Board of Health proposed restrictions based on authority granted under Massachusetts General Laws to “make reasonable health regulations.” Many in town began debating over just what the word “reasonable” meant, while local business owners, who rely heavily on tobacco sales, began taking sides against town officials.

A subsequent Board of Health meeting saw the proposed ban stopped by a 2-1 vote.

Hawaii is the only state in the country where people must be 21 to purchase tobacco products. A bill that would set the age to 21 in California has cleared both chambers of the state Legislature there, but has not yet been signed into law. The legal age is 19 in Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah.

In addition to raising the tobacco purchase age, the bill the Senate plans to take up next week would ban the use of e-cigarettes in places like schools, restaurants and workplaces where cigarettes are already prohibited; require child-resistant packaging on e-cigarettes; ban tobacco vending machines; and require the Center for Health Information and Analysis to study the tobacco-cessation benefits offered by commercial insurers, MassHealth and the Group Insurance Commission.

Leominster doesn’t have a proposal like Westminster’s from 2014, but the city is exploring whether it should restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products.

The proposed restriction would allow the sale of flavored tobacco products at businesses designated as tobacco retail stores, but restrict sales at other businesses, such as gas stations and convenience stores.

Potentially restricting flavored tobacco had originally been discussed by the board in 2014, but was put on hold after the negative reception of a proposed ban on all tobacco products in Westminster.

As of Wednesday, Joan Hamlett, Leominster’s tobacco agent, said similar flavored-tobacco regulations are being considered by 15 communities in central Massachusetts, eight of which have already set dates for public hearings to discuss the regulation with residents.

As of last month, 48 communities throughout the state had adopted the regulation currently being reviewed in Leominster.

Information from the Associated Press and State House News Service was used in this report

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