BOSTON — Nearly 70 percent of the state’s population lives in communities that have adopted local policies raising their tobacco-buying age to 21, and a bill teed up for Wednesday’s House session would extend that age hike statewide.
Along with raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from its current 18, the bill would impose new regulations on e-cigarettes, including banning their use in places where state law already prohibits smoking. It would also prohibit the sale of tobacco products by pharmacies.
With the Senate last session overwhelmingly backing a bill to accomplish the same goals and more than half of House lawmakers supporting a version this session, the bill stands a good chance of making it to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker, who is “conceptually” supportive of the age increase.
In April 2016, the Senate voted 32-2 to pass a similar bill, which died when the House did not take it up before the session ended. Wednesday will mark the first time in this two-year term that either branch has taken up the tobacco-age bill.
“It was something which I’d been thinking about for quite a while, just waiting for it to go from Public Health to Health Care Finance to Ways and Means, various committees talking about changes, perfections to it,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Monday. “Quite frankly, it’s been something which I think has been due for a while, I think especially now with the number of cities and towns that have already changed the age in their particular communities makes it also more timely than ever. Bottom line, I think it’s something we should be doing.”
In 2005, Needham became the first town in the country to raise its smoking age to 21.
As of March 30, 170 cities and towns, accounting for 69.5 of the state population, had raised their tobacco age, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. That number includes the hometowns of DeLeo (Winthrop), Gov. Baker (Swampscott), and Senate President Harriette Chandler (Worcester).
Baker on Monday reiterated a stance he staked out in 2016, when he said he “conceptually” backed an increase in the tobacco age.
“It depends on which version ultimately makes it through the process, but conceptually when you guys first started talking about it last year, we expressed support generally for the idea,” the governor told reporters Monday after meeting with DeLeo and Chandler.
In April 2016, Baker said, “Obviously it depends on the language, but I don’t think philosophically we have a problem with raising it to 21.”
The bill the House plans to take up Wednesday is a Public Health Committee redraft (H 4109) of legislation originally filed by Dedham Rep. Paul McMurtry and other tobacco-related bills. It’s now pending before the House Ways and Means Committee, and representatives have until 3 p.m. Tuesday to file amendments.
A majority of House lawmakers — 96 out of the chamber’s 160 seats — signed on as co-sponsors of McMurtry’s bill, including members of both parties and some who have since left the House.
The bill has an effective date of July 1, and would exempt those who turned 18 before Jan. 1, 2017, from being subject to the higher statewide age.