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December 30, 2013

Mass. cities, towns raising tobacco sales age

(Continued)

Critics argue local officials are overstepping their authority, and anyone over 18 is an adult capable of making decisions about whether to smoke.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, called the moves “an overreach” by local governments. Anti-tobacco activists are attempting to take the path of least resistance by pushing age restrictions at the local level rather than face a more difficult battle to do it statewide, Hurst said.

“They try to pick off cities and towns here and there,” he said. “Local officials have to know that they are putting their own consumers and employers at a disadvantage.”

Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday said she thinks increasing the legal age to buy tobacco is unnecessary and an inappropriate issue for the board of health to focus on.

“The legal age is 18. It is the age when you are an adult. You can fight in our wars. You have the right to vote. You can marry. And now we are going to tell you, ‘You can’t buy a pack of cigarettes if you want one,’” Holaday said.

Holaday said she will not dedicate any police resources to enforcing an age restriction on tobacco sales in Newburyport, leaving the question of how effective it might be in that city.

Increasing the legal age for cigarette sales will only hurt local retailers and send consumers to convenience stores in neighboring communities, Holaday said.

Activists credit Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Lester Hartman, a pediatrician in Westwood, with spearheading the change one community at a time.

Winickoff said a slow, steady approach will have a major public health impact statewide.

“I think community by community is what we are going to do for a while, and that’s the way to have this move forward,” Winickoff told the News Service.

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