After successfully banning spit tobacco at sporting events, parks and stadiums, Mayor Marty Walsh is now pushing to raise Boston's legal age of buy tobacco sales from 18 to 21.
"We know the consequences of tobacco use are real and can be devastating,” Walsh said in a statement released on Wednesday. “These proposed changes send a strong message that Boston takes the issue of preventing tobacco addiction seriously, and I hope that message is heard throughout Boston and across the entire country.”
Presently, there are 83 towns and cities in Massachusetts that have raised the threshold up to 21. If Boston’s Board of Health approves on the age hike, the Hub would be the second major city in the U.S. to institute such a measure, right behind New York City.
Needham became the first town in the country to up the tobacco sales age, and a 2015 study showed that youth smoking rate in Needham dropped almost 50 percent in the first five years of the riswd buying age. Experts and advocates hope that the same would happen in Boston.
"By raising the tobacco sale age to 21, Boston can continue its longstanding leadership in fighting tobacco and help make the next generation tobacco-free," said Kevin O'Flaherty with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in a statement. "We know that 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21, and ages 18 to 21 are critical years when young people transition from experimenting with tobacco into becoming regular users."
One local smoke shop owner is particularly heated about the prospect of an age increase, not because of the threat to his sales, but because of the infringement of the nanny state.
The Board of Health Commission is taking written responses until December 9 should people feel compelled to voice their opinions, but the BHC is holding a hearing on proposal on December 3.
“If this went through, an 18- to 20-year-old kid would have to get on the T and go to Quincy or Somerville or Brookline or Malden to buy cigarettes,” Boston Smoke Shop owner Joe Girouard said. “We’re not going to lose much money if we can’t sell cigarettes to 18- to 20-year-olds, really. The taxes are so high that you don’t make much profit, and the city will lose the tax revenue.”
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Girouard’s worry is not the packs per day sold, but people under 18 would not be able to step foot in his store, let alone purchase the glassware and vaporizer products.
“My concern isn’t losing business there, but our concern is that our most popular products, vaporizers, not even the ones with nicotine, wouldn’t be available for people in that age group,” Girouard said. “That’s about 70 percent of our business. Beyond that, the federal government views you as an adult at 18. You can buy a gun, vote, get married, go to war at that age, but you won’t be able to buy cigarettes. It’s ridiculous.”