Thursday, October 20, 2005

Smoking by Minors

Under Mass. law, it is illegal to sell or give tobacco products to anyone under 18, but the law does not specifically prohibit minors from possessing or smoking cigarettes. Some cities and towns, however, may have stricter ordinances. In an 1998 John F. Kennedy Library newsletter, for example, mention is made of two Lynn city ordinances. "The first ordinance requires Lynn's Health Department not only to invoke strict fines and revocation of permits on the sale of cigarettes to minors, but also to include an extensive and detailed educational component. The second ordinance makes it illegal for minors to smoke or possess tobacco products of any kind within Lynn city limits." To find out if your town has such restrictions, look at the city and town ordinances linked from this site. The Department of Public Health also has an extensive list of local officials responsible for anti-smoking initiatives.

Laws that prohibit smoking by minors are not without controversy. This, for example, is from a 1999 article, Northbridge student has his bill approved to restrict smoking: "Teen-agers from the North Shore testified in favor of bills that would increase penalties for the sale of tobacco to a minor to the same level as those assessed for selling alcoholic beverages to anyone under 21, and make it illegal for a minor to possess tobacco. But the committee held up action on those bills when they ran into opposition from the Massachusetts Coalition for a Healthy Future, which expressed concern that outlawing possession by anyone under 18 could make smoking more attractive to teen-age "rebels" and play into the hands of the tobacco industry by taking the spotlight off those responsible for supplying tobacco to minors. "

In part to reduce minors' access to cigarettes (and in part to collect required taxes), the Mass. Attorney General has pursued an action against online cigarette sellers. In February 2005, he "announced the entry of a consent judgment in a consumer protection lawsuit brought against eSmokes, Inc., an Internet cigarette retailer. The Suffolk Superior Court order requires the Virginia company to comply with a Massachusetts age-verification regulation, to give Massachusetts consumers certain notices about the purchase of cigarettes from companies that have not paid Massachusetts cigarette taxes, and to make cigarette sales reports required by the federal Jenkins Act." This month, the Boston Globe reported that eSmokes was turning over a customer list to the Attorney General to further the collection of taxes.

Links to more information about smoking in Massachusetts are available on our page, Mass. Law About Smoking.