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Mayor Walsh Announces Board of Health Approves Amendments to Tobacco Regulations

December 17, 2015

Mayor's Office

Published by:

Mayor's Office

Raises Age to Buy Tobacco and Nicotine Products to 21; Limits Access to Flavored Tobacco Products

BOSTON - Thursday, December 17, 2015 - Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced that the Boston Board of Health voted to approve amendments to the City of Boston's tobacco regulations which raise the minimum legal age for purchasing tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21, increase the age for admission to adult-only retail tobacco stores and smoking bars to 21, and streamline existing regulations. Additionally, the amendments will limit the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products other than menthol to adult-only retailers.

"I am proud to stand with our Board of Health in support of updating Boston's tobacco regulations. 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 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." 

By raising the minimum legal age for tobacco sales to 21, Boston joins more than 85 other municipalities in Massachusetts, as well as New York City and Hawaii. The amendments will go into effect in 60 days on February 15, 2016. 

Previously, Boston's Board of Health has implemented robust tobacco control and prevention measures to address youth smoking, leading to 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. However, use of electronic cigarettes and flavored tobacco products is on the rise, spurring the most recent action by the Board of Health. 

"I applaud Mayor Walsh for his leadership on this persistent public health issue and for his support of these critically important policy changes that will undoubtedly protect Boston's young people from unnecessary disease and premature death," said Board of Health Chair Dr. Paula Johnson.

Nationwide, while only roughly two percent of retail tobacco sales are to individuals aged 18 through 21, as many as 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21, and the ages 18 to 21 are cited as critical years when young people transition from experimenting with tobacco into becoming regular users. 

Recognizing the importance of this age group, 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.  A 2013 survey found that the use of inexpensive cigars and cigarillos among youth in Boston had increased to 20 percent. Boston's latest amendments are aimed at preventing teenagers from starting smoking by removing the sources of tobacco products from their social networks. 

"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, so reducing the number of  young people who ever start smoking is the single most important thing we can to promote long-term health," said Dr. Huy Nguyen, Interim Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission.