BOSTON — Nearly a dozen communities across the state within the past year have raised the age for tobacco sales to higher than 18 years old, evidence of a slow-spreading movement that activists say will reduce cigarette use among teens.
Most states, including Massachusetts, allow 18-year-olds to buy tobacco products. Alaska, Alabama, Utah and New Jersey are the exceptions, all having pushed the legal age to 19.
Until last year, Needham was the only community in the United States that prohibited sales to anyone under 21 years old — a change the town made in 2005, according to D.J. Wilson, the tobacco control director at the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
Since then, a handful of other Bay State communities have followed. While there have been no such proposals on Cape Ann, Brookline, Belmont, Sharon, Watertown, Westwood, Walpole and Sudbury have all outlawed the sale of tobacco to anyone under 21 within the past year, according to Wilson.
Canton, Ashland, Dedham and Arlington also changed their bylaws to prohibit sales of tobacco to anyone under 19, with Arlington planning to push its age restriction up to 21 years old over a three-year phase-in plan.
“In those towns, we hope to see it is actually harder for kids to get their hands on tobacco products,” Wilson said, adding that it is too soon to gather any data on smoking rates in those towns.
The Board of Health in Newburyport is currently debating a measure that would outlaw sales to anyone under 21. But the move there faces resistance from the city mayor and some retailers.
Other cities and towns across Massachusetts and the country are also looking to ban tobacco sales to young adults.
This past spring, New York City became the first major U.S. city to ban the sale of tobacco to anyone under 21.
“It is interesting in that it kind of cascaded pretty quickly,” Wilson said about the age restriction for tobacco sales.