Tobacco under Fire in Massachusetts | God's World News

Tobacco under Fire in Massachusetts

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    Brookline, Massachusetts, adopted an unusual smoking ban that bars tobacco sales to anyone born in the 21st century. (AP/Jeff Chiu)
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    In 2018, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a state law that barred anyone under 21 from buying any tobacco product in the state. (Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via AP, Pool)
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    Brookline, Massachusetts, is part of the Boston metropolitan area. Other cities in the state could soon adopt similar tobacco bans. (Pi.1415926535/CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED)
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A Massachusetts town adopted an unusual law. It banned tobacco sales to anyone born in the 21st century. This spring, a state supreme court upheld the extraordinary law. Some folks balk; others see it as a model for other locales hoping to snuff out tobacco.

Judging “with right judgment” (John 7:24) can be complicated, as in the case of the town’s tobacco ban.

A 2020 Brookline, Massachusetts, bylaw reads: “No person, firm, corporation, establishment, or agency shall sell tobacco or e-cigarette products to anyone born on or after 1/1/2000.”

The anti-tobacco rule is the first of its kind in the United States. The law went into effect in 2021.

Even before that, former Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker had signed a state law. It barred anyone under the age of 21 from buying any tobacco product in the state. Banned items included cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes.

Supporters of the Brookline measure say the wording in the state law doesn’t keep local communities from passing their own measures to outlaw harmful products.

Kate Silbaugh co-sponsored the anti-tobacco law. Brookline.News quotes her as saying the new law “distinguish[es] between people who already used tobacco who need to be able to access it and those who haven’t yet started using tobacco.” The law’s aim is to keep them from ever starting—eventually regardless of age and maturity.

Critics of the Brookline law argue it violates the state constitution. They say the law uses age to discriminate between adults.

For example, a 24-year-old born in December 1999 can buy tobacco under both laws. However, a 24-year-old born in January 2000 cannot. Yet both are adults over 21.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court sided with Brookline. The court notes that cities and towns “have a lengthy history of regulating tobacco products to curb the well-known, adverse health effects of tobacco use.”

Regarding the age problem, the court adds, “State laws and local ordinances and bylaws can and often do exist side by side.”

The court’s decision opens the door for other communities to adopt similar bans.

Jon Hurst is president of the Retailers of Massachusetts Association. He criticizes the ruling. He claims it could lead to a bylaw jumble. Referring to the number of towns and cities in the Bay State, he wrote on social media that “351 different rules doesn’t make sense for interstate commerce. Local gov should focus on schools, public safety, trash services, etc.”

Lawyer Mark Gottlieb represented Brookline in court. He asserts that Massachusetts cities can now “[end] the sale of tobacco products by following Brookline’s example without fear of a legal challenge.”

Why? Anti-tobacco proponents probably operate from good motives, such as improving people’s health. A danger is that government interference in one area can lead to overreach in others.

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