The minimum age to legally purchase tobacco products in Massachusetts will rise from 18 to 21 on December 31, under legislation approved by the House of Representatives.
In addition to imposing new age restrictions for tobacco purchases, House Bill 4479, An Act to protect youth from the health risks of tobacco and nicotine addiction, would also ban tobacco sales at health care institutions and pharmacies while implementing new restrictions on e-cigarettes. State Representative Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury, supported the bill, which passed the House on a vote of 146-4 on May 9.
Representative Mirra said the bill will help to reduce the health risks associated with tobacco use by teenagers and young adults by restricting sales to those who are 21 and older. The bill will also create a statewide standard for tobacco sales, as nearly half of all Massachusetts communities have already raised the purchasing age to 21.
According to the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards (MAHB), 156 cities and towns across the state currently set 21 as the minimum legal age for the sale of tobacco products. Five other states also have similar age restrictions, including California, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids estimates that as many as 103,000 Massachusetts residents currently under the age of 18 will die prematurely from smoking. The organization also notes that the annual health care costs in Massachusetts directly associated with smoking total $4.08 billion.
House Bill 4479 requires the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA), the Division of Insurance, the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Group Insurance Commission (GIC), and the office of Medicaid to review the tobacco cessation benefits offered by each health insurance plan and to compare them to those recommended by the United States Preventive Services Task Force.
The bill also establishes a 15-member task force to study the vaping industry and to provide recommendations for educating students about the dangers of e-cigarettes and restricting the use of these devices in and around schools. The task force has a reporting deadline of January 1, 2019.
Although the House bill would take effect on December 31, it provides an exemption from the age restriction for anyone who turns 18 prior to the effective date.
The bill now heads to the Senate for further action.