Soon, 21-year-olds in Brookline, MA won’t be able to legally buy cigarettes. A new town law prohibits anyone born on or after January 1st, 2000 to buy cigarettes ever, regardless of their age. This first-in-the-nation law means that an entire generation of residents won’t be able to legally smoke in the town unless they leave its limits and buy their products elsewhere. I want to be clear. This is a violation of youth rights.

As of 2020, the legal age to use nicotine and tobacco products nationwide is 21. This raised it from the federal minimum smoking age of 18 but many states had previously raised their minimum ages from 18 to 19 or 21. Now, Brookline is going further, downright banning the purchase of cigarettes for anyone now aged 23 or 24 for the rest of their lives. The logic is that it will prevent younger people from ever being addicted to nicotine. However, it’s downright flawed. First, it assumes that no younger people today are addicted to nicotine. According to the CDC, 5.3% of Americans aged 18-24 smoke regularly. 11% of 18-24-year-olds vape regularly. This means that the law will essentially prevent 21-year-olds and 22-year-olds who may have been legally smoking for the past year or two from legally buying cigarettes in the town.

Even though Brookline is so far the only town in the country to take such a drastic measure, such policies could spread elsewhere. According to a report from Boston University and an interview with Katharine Silbaugh, a co-sponsor of the bill, the Massachusetts Attorney General has said that the law is not in violation of the state’s 21+ smoking law and other towns and cities are looking into adopting a similar law that would prevent certain people from legally smoking, ever. While town residents aged 21+ could still theoretically buy cigarettes and other nicotine products in adjacent towns and cities like Boston and Newtown, the new town law merely makes life more difficult for nicotine and tobacco users.

Here’s the worrying point: Who’s to say that nearby municipalities won’t eventually adopt Brookline’s policy? In 2005, the Boston suburb of Needham, MA was the first place in the country to set the legal age for the purchasing of smoking products to 21. By the end of the next decade, many states had set their legal smoking/vaping/nicotine use ages to 21, and in 2020, the federal government passed Tobacco 21, banning everyone in the country from legally smoking or buying nicotine and tobacco products under the age of 21. Even though today Brookline is the only place in the country with such a puritanical law, soon, other towns, then other states, then the entire country could adopt a similar law. Legislation is under way in the United Kingdom to enact a similar ban.

Brookline has fallen, and so if any of us care about youth rights at all, we must ensure that the rest of the country does not fall as well. To permanently discriminate someone based on their birthdate, even as they turn 21, is indeed a violation of youth rights and is generational discrimination. To continue selling a product but banning a certain group of people from it for life is simply nonsensical. To say that if you were born on December 31st, 1999 you can smoke for the rest of your life but if you were born on January 1st, 2000 sounds just as poorly thought out as it is. Fortunately, such bans elsewhere have been met with opposition or merely scrapped. New Zealand was the first country in the world to pass a generational ban, but its incoming government is now scrapping it. Kudos to them!

4 Comments

  1. High age limits are Stalinism, as they are introduced by supposed experts for supposed progressive reasons and forced upon “unenlightened” working class.

  2. This article is so strange and presents a very interesting problem.
    I am holding in my hands two beliefs…
    1) This law is condescending and discriminatory towards Gen Z, Gen Alpha, and beyond. I have never heard of a generational ban and I don’t like this. This should not be a precedent. Such restrictions are concerning and unfair.
    2) I too oppose the tobacco industry, which invests in literal bodily addiction, trauma, sickness, and death. As someone who supports liberation, healing, health, and life, I therefore stand in opposition to the proliferation and sale of tobacco.
    Additionally, I must say it is quite naive to assume town residents won’t go elsewhere to buy the stuff, including to other towns and online.
    Nevertheless, I believe if a town wants to pass such legislation for a novelty reason (such as: tourists, come check out our unique town that ban smoking!), they should extend the tobacco ban to ALL its residents rather than targeting Gen Z, Gen Alpha, and beyond. Afterwards they should specifically promote their town that way; as a smoking-free town.
    These are just my beliefs however.

    1. I meant to say, thank you for the article, which is fantastic! It is the *news* that is strange, not the article. I appreciate the writeup and the disclosure of the situation. Just wanted to clarify. 🙂

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