Senate Passes Tobacco Control Legislation

The Senate recently passed legislation raising the age for legal purchase of tobacco from 18 to 21.  I was pleased to support the bill, which now goes to the House for consideration.

The drive to raise the age is a response to the marketing of tobacco products to kids. Tobacco companies have an obvious interest in marketing to kids — one infamous internal memo included the line:

Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens … The smoking patterns of teenagers are particularly important to Philip Morris.

Many of the new smokeless products are obviously targeted to kids — they come in a variety of sweet flavors in bright toy-like packaging that appeals to kids.

Bringing the smokeless nicotine products into our tobacco regulatory framework and raising the age will reduce the amount of addictive nicotine products circulating in high schools. Currently, 18-year-old high school seniors can buy tobacco. If the age is raised to 21, there will be fewer seniors sharing tobacco with younger kids in their school networks.

The new rules would not apply to kids who are already 18. So, for example, a 19 year old will be able to continue to use tobacco and work their way off their addiction at their own pace.

The bill continues the relatively light regime of penalties for tobacco violations — that was very important for me.  I feel that there are already too many ways for kids to get in trouble with the criminal justice system.

Under current law, there are no specific penalties for minors who posses or consume tobacco.   Apparently, Massachusetts is one of only five states that does not impose penalties on minors who purchase or possess tobacco.  The only penalties adhere to those who sell or give tobacco to minors and these are fine-only offenses — they are not punishable by incarceration: $100 for the first offense.

The only punishments for minors using tobacco are those imposed by schools under whatever policies they may develop — state law does prohibit use of tobacco in schools, but leaves disciplinary policy to the individual school districts.

The new proposed law would not create new penalties, but a compromise floor amendment added language allowing law enforcement officers to confiscate tobacco from kids under 21 and, in the case of kids under 18 to notify their parents (without in any way logging or keeping any record of the notice).

In general, I am against punishment as a strategy for reducing addiction. For example, I oppose our criminalization of marijuana and feel that we should be very cautious in forcing treatment, even on persons involved in harder drugs.

I was able to support this bill because it is really not about punishment. Most retailers will comply with the new rule without being fined and kids themselves are not exposed to material new punishments.

Massachusetts will not be the first state to raise the age — Hawaii was the first and California just approved the increase.

The age increase seems reasonably calculated to reduce the circulation of tobacco in the social networks of young teenagers. As a teenager, I watched two of my grandparents suffer greatly from ailments related to their life-long tobacco habits. I never picked up a habit, but I know from many friends how hard it is to quit.

I do believe that this modest bill will save lives. As always, I appreciate your feedback.

Age Thresholds

Some, in objecting to raising the age, focus on the fact that 18-year-olds can vote and serve in the military. However, there are a number of different age thresholds and putting the purchase of tobacco at 21 would fit well. The following list was prepared by Senator Jason Lewis’s office.

  • You must be at least be 16 in order to obtain a driver’s permit
  • You must be at least 18 to be a local police officer
  • You must be 18 to buy a lottery ticket
  • You must be 18 to buy pornography
  • You must be 18 to get married in Massachusetts
  • You must be 18 to work in Massachusetts without a work permit or special circumstances.
  • You must be 18 to vote
  • You must be 18 to provide medical consent
  • You must be 18 to serve on a jury
  • You must be 18 to open a bank account
  • You must be 19 to play for the Boston Celtics (or any other NBA team)\
  • You must be at least 21 to join the Massachusetts State Police.
  • The minimum age for a license to carry a gun is 21 in Massachusetts
  • You must be 21 to enter a Casino in Massachusetts
  • You must be 21 to buy, consume, or possess alcohol
  • You must be 21 to book a Cruise (most cruise lines)
  • You must be 21 to drive a commercial vehicle over state lines.
  • AMC theatres requires a parent or an adult Guardian someone 21 years or older when bringing someone younger to an R-rated movie.
  • You must be 21 to be a flight attendant for Delta Airlines
  • You must be 21 to rent a car from most rental car agencies (There are usually restrictions or fees associated with renting for those under 25)
  • You must be at least 25 to supervise a driver with a learner’s permit in Massachusetts.
  • You must be 25 to serve in Congress
  • You must be 30 to serve as a US Senator

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

56 replies on “Senate Passes Tobacco Control Legislation”

  1. So I can die for my country, but I can’t buy a pack of smokes? Raise the draft age to 21 while you’re at it.

    1. we haven’t had active military conscription since the end of the Vietnam War. We should put it back into place and insist that the sons and daughters of our legislators be on the front lines, first, last and always. We should also require that any wartime-related activities be financed through special taxes and not by debt.

  2. As a former smoker of 15 years, who started smoking when he was underage, I fully support efforts to prevent people from starting smoking.

    I do not agree with this legislation at all. Firstly, if a person is old enough to get married, and old enough to join the Army, and old enough to choose the President, then they are old enough to make decisions for themselves. It is not the job of the Government to regulate choices made by adults. Secondly, if your desire is to prevent high school seniors from sharing tobacco with younger students then raise the age to 19, not 21. Or even better, change the way you calculate school age eligibility so that seniors should all be 17 (like in New York) rather than having some be 18 and some be 17.

    Frankly, if you are going to support this legislation then I fully expect you to introduce legislation to raise the legal age for EVERYTHING to be 21. Driving a car. Getting a credit card. Voting. These are all things that require as much responsibility as making the choice to purchase tobacco, if not more.

  3. I think you’re wrong. It will only penalty poor kids. Why doesn’t society learn from Prohibition? And, I believe that the basic value goes: If I can die for my country why can’t I buy cigarettes?????

  4. Not that I like smoking, but if you’re 18 you should be able to decide what to do on your own, you’re old enough to fight in a war but not to smoke, too much is decided for us now a days we are losing our rights daily, we had much more freedom when I grew up and I turned out just fine, without government making choices and decisions for me, it’s not about smoking to me it’s about losing our freedoms .

  5. What about the stores that sell tobacco to minors. Is their any penalty to the seller? What about adults who buy the tobacco for minors, are they punishable under the law?

  6. I totally support this. That being said I also support though lowering the drinking age to 18. At the same time I would have zero tolerance for drunk driving. If caught drunk driving I would recommend loss of drivers license for two years or to 21 whichever is longet

  7. Thank you for your support of this critical measure and thank you for speaking out on the floor of the Senate during the debate. Tobacco is the top preventable cause of death in America with over 450,000 Americans dying prematurely of tobacco-related illnesses (and many more remain health compromised because of tobacco use). Nicotine is highly addictive and the tobacco industry has been promoting its products (now including e-cigarettes) to youth, as you pointed out in your statement. This bill is a great step forward!

  8. Makes no sense. We are not puratins anymore and I believe we have already reduced the amount of smokers by a significant amount already. I am not a fan of corp tobacco but this is over reach by the government.

  9. I appreciate and respect your work and thought that you bring to issues. However, for the reasons given by others, I do not support this legislation. Paternalistic prohibitions do not work. They are also inimical to a free society.

    1. I am getting very, very tired of all this neoliberal virtue signaling.

      High deductible health insurance and skyrocketing medical costs? A burgeoning age discrimination crisis? Collapsing infrastructure?

      Nope. Can’t worry about those until every transgender person has access to a smoke free bathroom.

  10. Yes. I would like the legal age to buy tobacco raised to 21. Thank you for supporting this bill. Any deterrent is good.

  11. Yes. I would like to see military service age eligibility raised to 21 also.

  12. I support raising age of tobacco use as well.

    But doesn’t it contradict the idea of making marijuana legal for recreational use?

    As always, thanks for keeping us informed.

  13. Thanks, Will for your notice and explanation. Like several other responses, I do not support this legislation. I appreciate your thoughtful post on the topic. My gut is that if we trust people who are 18 to vote and get married and sign mortgages and enlist and serve in the armed forces, they should be treated fully as adults.

    If we trust 18 year olds to elect people, then we should trust them to decide whether to buy cigarettes, or alcohol in my view. This stance may not be popular, but I just can’t get beyond the idea of the double standard which seems hypocritical to me.

      1. yep. 18 is not a magic number. I simply think that our laws should be consistent and based on agreed-upon science. If you are capable of voting, why aren’t you capable of deciding whether to buy alcohol or tobacco? If you are not to be trusted with alcohol or tobacco, then how can you be trusted with voting, signing contracts, joining the military?

    1. I agree with you, but I think that lowering the voting age to 18 was a huge mistake.
      Does anyone think that the average 18 year old is wise enough?
      If you were to ask the average 18 year old when WW 2 or Vietnam was, he’d have no idea. Ever seen those TV interviews with college students where they known nothing about American history, politics or civics?
      They’re mostly all Democrat voters, by the way.

  14. I’ve never smoked and think it is a filthy habit, however it makes no sense that someone at age 18: can sign/consent to a legal contract, work high risk jobs, purchase a rifle, volunteer to serve or be drafted into the military, face trial as an adult, serve on a jury, vote, travel abroad alone on a passport, pay taxes, etc. but cannot purchase a legal product available in all 50 states?

    I’d rather see an effort to lower the drinking age to 18 and increase the penalty for drunk driving to include the state auctioning off a convicted offender’s car.

    It seems to me society keeps delaying adulthood with excessive coddling. The average 16 year old mid century was as competent and mature as the average 24 year old today when it comes to the level of maturity expected of them. That’s not doing anyone any favors!

    1. There are actually a lot of things 18 years old can’t do — rent a car, serve in Congress, run for President.

      All the evidence is that brain maturation continues well into the 20s.

    2. I agree 100% with Matthew. If someone is old enough to vote, they should be old enough to buy cigarettes. I think a lot of adults today do not remember what it was like to be 18. As someone who was always very responsible, I always resented the fact that society had decided I wasn’t old enough to do certain things. And every time one person was irresponsible, they would strengthen the laws to “protect” the rest of us. (For example regarding driving laws.) As someone who followed the rules, this was always infuriating. If the goal is to reduce smoking or encourage people not to start, there are plenty of ways to do that without raising that age at which it is legal.

  15. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need to legislate corporate malevolence, but of course, it is not a perfect world. This bill makes sense.

  16. Hi, Will. Thanks for your great communication, as usual.
    Smoking is terrible for people’s health, and caring for people with smoking-related diseases drives up everyone’s healthcare costs. Anything we can do as a society to reduce smoking on these grounds makes sense to me. However, your stated justification for supporting this legislation – protecting young people – does not make sense to me. 18-year-olds, as many commenters have said, are adults, not “kids.” If we can ask them to vote and die and sign contracts, then we do not need to treat them as though they are children.
    To treat all adults fairly and decrease the pressure on the healthcare system, maybe we should just outlaw the sale of cigarettes all together. (Yes, I know prohibition didn’t work. However, alcohol is not pretty much guaranteed to kill you, and I think there is a societal consensus in the U.S. that cigarettes will.) I’m sensitive to the excellent point Katharine makes that penalties on smoking will penalize lower income people. Any phasing out of cigarette sales would need to be carefully designed to avoid this.

  17. Will,
    I agree with your vote for this bill, and I approve of your reasoning to avoid punishment other than informing their parents.

  18. No penalties for users and it finally closes the loophole where the 18 yr old high school student supplies younger students. Great! I hope the house passes. Thanks for the update Will.

  19. Your explanation explains to me that you supported the bill for all the right reasons. Yes punishment is not a useful strategy for reducing addiction. I wasn’t aware of coerced treatment until i read the link, will wait to see the pros and cons when spelled out, thanks for including those informative links.

  20. Will,
    I support your decision and logic. I also hope you stand fast to any attempt to legalize recreational marijuana use. Studies show Marijuana smoke is 5X more harmful to lungs than cigarette smoke. High people are a danger to themselves and others. I hope our politicians see the dangers and not the profit.
    David Benoit

    1. David,

      As Chris mentioned, your 5x more harmful to the lungs than cigarette smoke is completely wrong. At worst, it’s the same but most studies show it’s actually less bad. It also has medical benefits that cigarettes do not.

      Please show me the study that explains how high people are a danger to themselves and others? How does that compare to alcohol users? When was the last time you heard a high person starting a brawl at a club or bar? How many more drunk people cause car accidents compared to high people?

      If you feel that strongly against legalization of marijuana because of how much harm it’ll do, shouldn’t you be just as against, if not more, so cigarettes and alcohol given how much harm they cause society?

      Please do a little more research before making the claims you made.

  21. As a former smoker who started at 14 and took twenty years to quit successfully, I strongly support raising the age to buy tobacco products. If tobacco had been less easily accessible in high school I might not have gotten hooked. Nicotine is too addictive to undeveloped brains not to regulate it further, and carries tremendous health and human costs. The 18 year age limit is not working.

  22. Make sense raise the Age now! stop the lobbyist like the big bully Tobacco companies stop the Big bully Uber billion dollar company that does NOT pay their fair share of road tax tolls or insurance contributions! UBER is stealing 5 million a month from Mass. we could use that 5 million a month in our school system, we got to teach our kids not to smoke have some discipline and teach them how to work! we are falling way behind in the world, most kids think if they do not play 2 hours of video games a day they are deprived! they should go hungry for a day, they would know what its like to be deprived! our kids do not even qualify to be cashiers out here and the government wants 15 per hour for pay! I try to hire kids but they can not add or subtract how are they going to carry on with out us old people? make the changes now before it is too late! Teach job skills in school! kids must understand how things work from bottom up! in the real life not in a video game where your a milioner after 15 minutes of playing the game, they think life is just as easy! then you wonder why we have heroin dependency! and the list goes on!

  23. Fabulous. It will indeed save lives and money for the young people who smoke. Thank you, Will.

  24. Tobacco, in any form, should become illegal for any age group. Otherwise, the government is in the business of promoting
    sickness, disease and death, which is why we have an agency called the FDA that is supposed to protect its consumers from any harmful products sold in this country.

    1. One look at the ‘War on Drugs’ shows that complete restriction does very little to stop people from using or distributing. Alcohol Prohibition showed when the government abolishes something that’s been main stream and that people want to do, a law will not stop them. How many people do you see breaking road laws every day on your way to and from work?

      Attempting to legislate against something people want to do, is not the right course in trying to get them to not do it. It starts with education and providing a support system for people who want to quit. We then need to make a safer haven in society for people to come forward to ask for help. Making them out to be black sheep will never improve the situation.

  25. Thank you, Mr. Brownsberger. Your decisions are always thoughtful, appealing to both evidence and compassion.

  26. Thank you Senator WB.
    We support your decision to vote for this legislation to protect the children from smoking.

    Hoping the schools too initiate them on the health risks.

  27. I believe tobacco should be illegal. It is a proven carcinogen, addictive with absolutely no physiological benefit, unlike alcohol and marijuana.
    Aids for current addicts should be freely acquired and further sale banned.

  28. Hi Will.
    I admire what you are attempting to do here, and your reasoning is sound, but there are really two points I’d make. First, the age to join the military is 18, so if that is the age the govt feels is appropriate to die for your country in war, then clearly you should also get to decide whether to smoke or not. Second, banning something is not the way to stop it, education is.

  29. Hi will,
    I am pleased that this has passed. As a life-long non smoker, I feel that the less people who start smoking the less will have to deal with the devistating health effects tobacco addiction.
    I am also asking you to support S1207. It deals with the Nurse Practice Act. It is being held up in committee. The doctors, especially anesthesiologists, are vociferously opposed to it and are spreading distortions & lies. Please let me know how you feel about this.
    Have a great summer.
    As Always, Pat Fisk

  30. If the smoking age should be increased to 21 because people younger than that do not possess sufficient knowledge and judgment, should not the voting age (18) be increased to 21 or even 25?

    By the way, I understand that this or a similar law does not apply to US soldiers on active duty. So people 18 + under stress can still smoke?

    1. The “War on Drugs” approach is doomed to failure with any drug. The current approach to opioids is a failure, and adding tobacco to the list will just be another boondoggle. The most successful programs around the world involve decriminalization, and a medical, not criminal approach to addiction.

  31. I disagree with you on this one, Will. I am of the opinion that if you’re old enough to vote and/or serve in the military, then you’re old enough to be permitted to do just about anything. That list of other 21-plus activities doesn’t sway me – if anything, it reinforces my opinion.

    I believe that 18 year olds should be allowed to drink. The law changed to 21 when drunk driving was a far worse problem. That problem has been managed, and drunk driving fatalities have plunged. The current discrimination against 18-21 year-olds prevents meaningful education about responsible drinking with high schoolers and college students. I wasn’t around to vote in the 80s, and maybe I would have understood it then, but it is clear to me that it has outlived its usefulness. It should be repealed, found unconstitutional, or both.

    The AMC movie example is particularly unsettling. That rule is effectively a restriction on speech. How on earth can it be OK for an 18-year old to vote, but not be informed by public speech? It’s a clear example of the infantilization of the younger adults in our society. I quite understand the distinction between private rules and government rules. Private rules in constraint of free speech can be terrible, misinformed, and stupid – but legal.

    Bottom line: They’re adults. We should treat them that way.

  32. Hi Will — thanks for supporting this bill. I hadn’t thought about the punishment side of it, but I agree with you that it’s important to keep it light.

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