Boston Raises Legal Age For Buying Tobacco Products To 21

Cigarette packs are displayed at a convenience store in New York. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Cigarette packs are displayed at a convenience store in New York. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

You’ll soon have to be 21 to buy cigarettes in Boston.

By a unanimous vote on Thursday, Boston’s Board of Health approved the mayor’s proposal to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco or nicotine products in the city from 18 to 21. The rule, which will go into effect on Feb. 15, 2016, will also cover e-cigarettes.

Eighty-five other Massachusetts communities have already raised their tobacco purchasing age.

“We know the consequences of tobacco use are real and can be devastating,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement. “These 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.”

The American Lung Association of the Northeast commended the move, saying it will help prevent youth from becoming addicted to tobacco.

Prior to the vote, Huy Nguyen, interim executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said the change is an attempt to prevent tobacco products from getting into the hands of teenagers.

“We know if we can prevent teen initiation of smoking and the use of nicotine, we can go very far in making our city a healthier place,” Nguyen said.

Some store owners say it’s the wrong move.

The New England Service Station and Auto Repair Association, with 350 members in Massachusetts, says the best way to reduce smoking among young adults would be to penalize young adults. The association’s Matt LeLacheur said before Thursday’s vote that the focus should be on possession, not sales.

“We would never allow a 16 year old to walk down the street drinking a Budweiser and I think it’s time for us to look and see whether it’s right for us to allow a 16 year old to walk down the street smoking a cigarette,” LeLacheur said.

But city health officials say regulating sales is effective and that changing possession laws is a matter for the state.

With reporting by the WBUR Newsroom and WBUR’s Martha Bebinger

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