Retailers pan bill to increase smoking age

  • Cigarette butts crowd an ash tray.

State House News Service
Published: 4/28/2016 8:27:56 AM

If Massachusetts raises the legal purchasing age to 21, cigarettes and tobacco products will remain "readily available" to those who wish to possess them, but consumers will be inconvenienced and store owners will lose business and possibly shed jobs, according to retailers.

The Senate is set to take up a bill (S 2152) Thursday dubbed "An act to protect youth from the health risks of tobacco and nicotine addiction." It raises from 18 to 21 the age restriction on purchasing tobacco products, though individuals who turn 18 before Jan. 1, 2017 would be allowed to continue to make purchases. The Senate Ways and Means Committee has offered a redraft (S 2234) of the bill.

"I think we will have strong bipartisan support for the legislation," Public Health Committee Co-chair Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) told the News Service last week.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts opposes the bill, including a provision prohibiting the sale of tobacco and nicotine products in so-called health care institutions, including retail pharmacies and stores with optical departments. The association is backing an amendment to delay implementation of that measure until 2018.

Late Wednesday, the association predicted the bill's passage would reduce overall customer traffic and sales and possibly lead to job losses and store closings, depending on the location of retailers.

"This legislation will not result in a decrease in tobacco and nicotine usage as such products will still be readily available to Massachusetts consumers," the association said. "It will however result in shifting tobacco sales out-of-state and to the internet thus depriving the Commonwealth of tobacco excise tax revenue used to address problems associated with smoking which will endure. The shift will also trigger a loss of sales tax revenue which otherwise may have been realized from the incidental sales of any number of other items that accompany a tobacco purchase. The reality is that any 18 year old consumer will still be able to drive across the state line or place an order online to purchase these products."

The bill would also prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in places like schools, restaurants and workplaces where cigarettes are already banned; require child-resistant packaging on e-cigarettes; ban tobacco vending machines and require the Center for Health Information and Analysis to study tobacco cessation benefits offered by commercial insurers, MassHealth and the Group Insurance Commission.

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