Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh

BOSTON – Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined public health officials, advocates and local youth to announce that Boston is taking steps to raise the age to buy all tobacco and nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, to 21.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh

“It is our responsibility to do what we can to guide our young people and create a healthier future for all Bostonians” said Mayor Walsh. “We know the consequences of tobacco use are real and can be devastating. These proposed changes send a strong message that Boston takes the issue of preventing tobacco addiction seriously, and I hope that message is heard throughout Boston and across the entire country.”

Despite major gains in reducing the number of adults and youth who smoke cigarettes, smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, contributing to more deaths than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle accidents and firearm-related incidents combined.

“By raising the tobacco sale age to 21, Boston can continue its longstanding leadership in fighting tobacco and help make the next generation tobacco-free,” said Kevin O’Flaherty with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “We know that 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21, and ages 18 to 21 are critical years when young people transition from experimenting with tobacco into becoming regular users. By moving forward with this proposal, Boston will reduce smoking and protect young people from this deadly addiction.”

Due in part to robust tobacco control measures to address youth smoking, Boston has seen a substantial reduction in youth cigarette use. Among Boston high school students, the rate of cigarette use declined from 15.3 percent in 2005 to 7.9 percent in 2013, and is well below the national average of 15.7 percent.

Recognizing this shift, the tobacco industry has been increasingly targeting youth through pricing, marketing and flavoring. Research shows that instead of smoking cigarettes, Boston’s young people are using other tobacco products, including candy, fruit, chocolate or other sweet-flavored cigars, as well as e-cigarettes. The current use of inexpensive cigars and cigarillos among youth in Boston increased from 11 percent in 2010 to 20 percent in 2013, and one out of four Boston students report that they have smoked cigars or cigarillos.

“Prohibiting tobacco sales to those under 21 and restricting availability of flavored tobacco products sends a clear message to all community members that our kids’ health is not for sale,” said Tami Gouveia, Executive Director of Tobacco Free Mass. “We care about protecting our kids from a lifetime of tobacco and nicotine addiction and these policies will do just that.”

These changes to tobacco regulations in Boston are aimed at preventing teenagers from starting smoking by removing the sources of tobacco products from their social networks. Nationwide, while roughly two percent of retail tobacco sales are to individuals aged 18 through 21, 90 percent of daily smokers report starting smoking before age 19. By supporting these changes, Mayor Walsh is working to protect present and future generations of Boston’s youth from tobacco addiction.

“Raising the sales age of tobacco products to 21 will help prevent a lifetime of tobacco addiction for the young people of Boston.” said Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. “Seeing this progress in Massachusetts has been one of the highlights of my pediatric career.”

In addition to raising the age to buy tobacco and nicotine products to 21, proposed amendments will also: increase the age of admission to adult-only retail tobacco stores and smoking bars to 21; prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products and nicotine delivery products other than menthol in all retail outlets except for adult-only retail tobacco stores and smoking bars; simplify and streamline current regulations, making them easier to understand and administer, ensuring that restrictions on the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies and educational institutions include e-cigarettes and other nicotine delivery products; and clarify the authority of the Tobacco Control Program to review tobacco permit applicants’ violation history when reviewing applications and renewals.

“The flavor restriction is important to me because I see a lot of other young people are tempted by these creative and tasty flavors every single day,” said Pelumi Aderogba, 17, a senior at Boston Trinity Academy in Hyde Park who spoke at today’s event. “This age restriction is good for teenagers like me because we are likely to have friends that are 18 who would be willing to buy these products for us.”

A public hearing on these changes is scheduled for December 3, 2015 and written comment can be submitted until December 9. The Board of Health is expected to vote on December 17 regarding these changes and, if approved, they will become effective 60 days after passage.

In September, Mayor Walsh signed an ordinance to prohibit the use of smokeless tobacco and other tobacco products at baseball parks, including Fenway Park. The ordinance also bans smokeless tobacco or any other tobacco product at event sites for professional, collegiate, high school or organized amateur sporting events, including baseball, softball, football, basketball, hockey, track and field, field hockey, lacrosse and soccer; and any other event involving a game or other athletic competition organized by a league or association.