Tobacco age-limit hike seen gaining interest in House

Printed from:

BOSTON – A leading proponent of raising the state’s tobacco-buying age to 21 said he’s “optimistic” the measure and other tobacco restrictions will become law this year, but cautioned that the bill sits among many other matters still awaiting action by the Massachusetts House of Representatives in the final weeks of formal legislative sessions.

The state Senate in April passed a comprehensive bill aimed at preventing youth tobacco use and addiction. Along with a three-year increase in the state’s tobacco purchase age, the bill (S 2269) includes a ban on tobacco sales in pharmacies and restrictions on e-cigarettes.

As the July 31 end of formal sessions inches closer and time dwindles to act on other major bills, supporters are urging House lawmakers to also pass the tobacco bill and move it to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.

“I got a few people on my way into the building giving the thumbs up, that really want to see this become law,” state Rep. Paul McMurtry, the sponsor of tobacco-use age legislation incorporated into the omnibus bill, told the News Service. “So I’m very optimistic, but there’s a lot of initiatives as the session’s starting to wind down, and I want to be respectful of the process and the many other important properties that the Legislature has before them.”

The House bill was endorsed by the Rules Committee on Wednesday and then referred to the Ways and Means Committee, a move members of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said could indicate momentum. The House bill (H 4361) is “substantially” similar to the version passed by the Senate, according to the action network.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, speaking to reporters Wednesday, referred to raising the tobacco age as “something I was interested in” and said he has been speaking with other lawmakers to gauge their positions.

“I’ve been talking around to try and get an idea in terms of the membership,” the Winthrop Democrat said. “Actually, you know, unless they’re either strongly involved one way or another, to let me know the opinion, to be very frank with you, I don’t know whether it was the debate that we had last year that maybe took the wind out of the sails in terms of other issues, but I’m going to continue and see if I can get a better feel in terms of where members stand.”

Anti-tobacco advocates, including high school students, visited the State House Wednesday to lobby representatives in support of the bill and thank the 32 senators who voted for it.

Marc Hymovitz, the Massachusetts government relations director for the Cancer Action Network, told the advocates his group is “cautiously optimistic” about the bill’s prospects, saying he has been “hearing some pushback.”

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts has come out against the bill, calling it “anti-local business and anti-consumer as it seeks to ban licensed stores from selling a legal product to adult consumers.”

A poll released Wednesday, conducted by the MassINC Polling Group for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, found 65 percent of registered voters support raising the sale age to 21, with 31 percent opposed. Registered Democrats, women, non-white voters and respondents over the age of 60 were most supportive, according to a MassINC memo.

Written by Katie Lannan