The Town of Marion might soon raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21 years with a new ordinance that Board of Health members hope will curb underage smoking.
The board was first contacted in March 2014 by Dr. Lester Hartman, senior pediatrician at Westwood/Mansfield Pediatrics. Hartman stated in an email that he had been collaborating with a Harvard pediatric professor named Dr. Jonathan Winickoff to promote a new “Tobacco 21” bill for Massachusetts towns.
In an article published in the January 23, 2014 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, Winickoff et al. cited New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2013 Tobacco 21 bill “imposing the strictest age restrictions on tobacco sales of any major U.S. city.”
According to the article, “The law stops short of making possession of tobacco products by persons under 21 a crime, placing the responsibility on retailers under penalty of civil fines.”
The federal minimum age set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to purchase tobacco products is 18; however, regulations allow individual states and local municipalities to impose a stricter age minimum.
Since New York, seven other Massachusetts towns have followed by adopting 21 years of age as the legal minimum to purchase tobacco. The Tobacco 21 initiative is growing, with other Massachusetts towns also considering adopting the regulations set by the Tobacco 21 Act.
By considering data collected by other towns post-Tobacco 21 regulations, the Marion Board of Health, as well as Marion Health Director Karen Walega, stated on May 26 that they favor the stricter age minimum and will move ahead with drafting the language for the new ordinance to be vetted by any concerned residents during a public hearing in the near future.
“I am for the 21 and over,” said Board of Health member Albin Johnson. “The longer that you can put off people’s access to smoking, the better.”
Opponents to the Tobacco 21 Act make arguments on several fronts, including questioning the effectiveness of raising the minimum age and the infringement on individuals’ legal right to make decisions on their health.
Data provided by Winickoff et al. shows that the Town of Needham, the first Massachusetts town to go Tobacco 21 in 2005, saw its smoking rate cut almost in half while nearby communities saw a lesser decrease.
“The percentage decline in Needham was nearly triple that of its neighbors,” Winickoff et al. state in their article, “contradicting the hypothesis that young people will simply shift their purchases to surrounding towns.”
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Health is scheduled for June 9 at 4:30 pm at the Marion Town House.
By Jean Perry