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Senate passes Sen. Lewis’s bill to protect youths from the risks of tobacco and nicotine addiction

Jason Lewis

On June 28, the Massachusetts Senate passed comprehensive legislation, with the help of Senator Jason Lewis, who was the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, to reduce youth access to tobacco and nicotine products. Tobacco use and nicotine addiction remain the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Massachusetts, responsible for more than $4 billion in annual health care costs to the Commonwealth. Youngsters are particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction; nicotine has harmful health impacts on the developing brain, and nine in 10 cigarette smokers begin using before age 18. The bill, An Act protecting youth from the health risks of tobacco and nicotine addiction, raises the minimum legal sales age for all tobacco products to 21, adds vaping products to the smoke-free workplace law and prohibits the sale of tobacco products in health care institutions, including pharmacies.

“Massachusetts has long been a leader in protecting and strengthening public health,” said Senator Lewis, who is Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “This comprehensive legislation will once again put the Commonwealth at the forefront of preventing youth addiction to tobacco and nicotine products, in order to improve health, save lives and reduce healthcare costs.”

“Raising the legal sales age for tobacco is an incredible public health achievement that will save lives, prevent addiction and ensure a healthier future for generations of Massachusetts youth,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler. “This legislation protects young adults whose minds and bodies are still developing, and is a proven strategy for nicotine addiction prevention. I am proud that the Senate has voted to approve this bill.”

“We have come too far in our fight to protect young people from the dangers of tobacco and nicotine to turn back now,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “This legislation is an important step toward ensuring that young people do not use these products. I applaud the Senate for passing this important bill and helping prevent another generation from growing up addicted to tobacco and nicotine.”

While youth smoking has declined considerably in the last two decades, youth use of other addictive tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, is increasing sharply. While nicotine delivery products like e-cigarettes might sometimes help some nicotine-addicted adults to stop smoking traditional cigarettes, they present a significant new threat to the health and well-being of young people who have not previously used tobacco products.

To directly target youth use, this legislation increases the legal sales age for tobacco products from 18 to 21. This is a proven and effective strategy to reduce youth tobacco use because it removes legally purchased tobacco products from high school social networks. Needham achieved a 48% reduction in youth tobacco use after becoming the first town in Massachusetts to raise the legal sales age to 21. The Institute of Medicine projects that increasing the age from 18 to 21 will reduce overall tobacco use in a population by 12% – the equivalent of 150,000 Massachusetts tobacco users.

Meanwhile, youth use of e-cigarettes has grown alarmingly, becoming a pervasive presence in high schools. The provisions in this bill build on the regulations promulgated in 2016 by Attorney General Maura Healey, and ensure that the places that are tobacco-free will also be vape-free, including schools, restaurants and workplaces.

“Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in this country, and 95 percent of all adult tobacco users start by the age of 21. If we can keep young Massachusetts residents from buying tobacco until they turn 21, we can save thousands of lives,” said Allyson Perron, Senior Director of Government Relations at the Massachusetts chapter of the American Heart Association. “Any action we can take to stop the young from taking that first deadly puff should be ardently pursued. We applaud the Massachusetts Senate for taking this important step in improving the health and wellbeing of our young residents.”

This bill also prohibits the sale of tobacco products in health-care institutions, including pharmacies, a policy already in place in more than 160 of state cities and towns, and a practice already adopted by firms like CVS.

Other provisions included in the bill include new authority granted to the Department of Public Health to regulate new, emerging tobacco products; and language requiring the Center for Health Information and Analysis to study the current tobacco-cessation benefits offered by commercial insurers, MassHealth and the Group Insurance Commission.

Many cities and towns have enacted policies to reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction that go beyond current state and federal laws and regulations, creating a patchwork of different laws across the Commonwealth that can confound retailers, distributors, consumers and public health officials. This legislation will provide a uniform statewide set of rules that protect youngsters and simplify the interaction between Massachusetts’s state and local laws.

The bill now returns to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where the bill was passed to be engrossed on May 9, 2018, for enactment.

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