A new set of state laws dealing with the sale and use of traditional tobacco products and vaping products, such as e-cigarettes and Juul, was signed by the governor in July and will go into effect on Dec. 31.

Among other changes, the laws will phase in a higher minimum age for the purchase of tobacco and nicotine-delivery products in Massachusetts.

The following are the major components of the changes in state law.

Vaping product sales

The new state law incorporates an expanded “tobacco product” definition that includes traditional tobacco products as well as vaping products or any “similar products that rely on vaporization or aerosolization.” With that, the sale of vaping products will be treated the same as traditional tobacco products. This is in line with the 227 cities and towns, covering 89 percent of the state’s population, that have already expanded their local measures to include this new type of nicotine product.

Minimum sales age

As of Dec. 31, the minimum legal sales age will rise from 18 to 19 for tobacco and vaping products. In 2020, the minimum age will rise again to 20. A third increase, to 21, will take effect in 2021.

This process will affect only cities and towns that have not already raised the minimum legal sales age through a local measure. So far, 181 cities and towns, with nearly three-quarters of the state’s population, have already raised their minimum age to 21 and will not be affected by the new legislation. Needham, in 2005, was the first municipality in the United States to raise its minimum tobacco purchase age to 21.

This higher age policy recognizes the need to address social sources of nicotine products by reducing the number of legal purchasers within the high school student population. It also recognizes that the adolescent brain is more susceptible to nicotine addiction.

Municipalities that have not yet adopted a minimum age of 21 may still do so, but the measure must have an effective date no later than Dec. 30 in order to avoid the statewide three-year process.

Vaping in public

As of 2019, the use of vaping products, such as e-cigarettes, will be prohibited in all workplaces, restaurants and bars that are subjected to the state’s 2004 workplace smoking law. The vaping restriction policy, already enacted by 139 municipalities, will also extend to those locations required to be smoke-free in local measures that are stricter than the state law.

Sales in health care institutions

Beginning in 2019, health care institutions – notably pharmacies and retailers such as supermarkets that contain pharmacies – will be prohibited from selling tobacco products and vaping products. Currently, 169 cities and towns, including the seven largest cities in the state (Boston was first in 2009), have already enacted this policy.

The public health aim is to de-couple tobacco sales from locations that also provide health care services – sometimes to treat and manage diseases and illnesses caused by the very same tobacco products.

Smoking in schools

The new state law eliminates confusion among a set of older laws and regulations that deal with smoking in some locations of some schools. Smoking and vaping will be banned at all times in all private and public school buildings, buses, grounds and school-sponsored events. The prohibition extends to everyone, including visitors, students, faculty and staff.

The new law requires schools to enact a policy, though most school districts currently have a policy on tobacco use, and dozens have already expanded their tobacco policy to include vaping products.

Rolling papers

Although traditional rolling papers contain no tobacco, and so are not technically a tobacco control issue, the new state law raises the minimum legal sales age for them from 18 to 21.

Current law prohibits the sale of rolling papers to anyone under age 18, but preempts cities and towns from regulating rolling papers beyond state law unless the more-restrictive local measure was in place prior to November 1995. The new state law appears to eliminate the local preemption, which would allow municipalities to further limit the sale of rolling papers (to adult-only retailers, for example).

Local measures

Other than the effective date restriction on raising the minimum local sales age to 21, cities and towns are still able to enact local policies dealing with the use or sale of vaping or traditional tobacco products, as the remainder of state laws on this subject do not preempt local action.

For questions or assistance, contact D.J. Wilson at the MMA at 617-426-7272 or djwilson@mma.org.

Written by