Young people from across the state met with lawmakers Wednesday about the need to pass legislation to raise the sale age of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21 in Massachusetts.
The students told lawmakers why the legislation is important to them and about the need to stem the tide of teenagers taking up smoking. Some spoke of loved ones with smoking related illnesses, while others said they simply do not want to see their friends start smoking.
Allison Wolfe, a freshman at Emmanuel College who grew up in Pittsfield, was born with a heart condition that has required her to have three open heart surgeries and three angioplasties. She was at the State House because she said she wants to make the world a safer place for people with heart conditions.
“This bill will make it more difficult for young people to get ahold of tobacco products,” said Wolfe, 18. “As someone who used to live in Western Mass., there were so many kids in my age range who were smoking on the weekends, or just after school.”
Wolfe can’t play sports due to her heart condition, which she said has occasionally excluded her from some social scenes. It is discouraging, she said, to befriend someone who also does not play sports, only to learn that they smoke cigarettes.
“It’s uncomfortable for me, personally,” said Wolfe.
Hayli Manning, a high school junior from Holbrook, said she wants to send a message to tobacco companies that they cannot market cigarettes to young people.
Research shows 95 percent of smokers start before the age of 21. Legislation sponsored by Rep. Paul McMurtry(H.2864), a Dedham Democrat, and Sen. Jason Lewis (S.1218), a Winchester Democrat, would raise the sale age of tobacco products from 18 to 21.
John Philippides, a senior at The Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury, said the state needs to do more to keep electronic cigarettes out of the hands of young people.
“The allure of e-cigarettes and vaping is a lot stronger among younger kids,” said Philippides, 17. “It can lead to a dependence on nicotine, and it can be a gateway to other drugs.”
Every year in Massachusetts, nearly 3,000 kids become new daily smokers, and 103,000 kids in the state under the age of 18 now will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.
“While today we listed 21 reasons to raise the sale age of tobacco to 21, there are hundreds of reasons to do so,” said Sarah Ryan, also a junior from Holbrook. “This is a public health concern. We as youth are tired of being ‘big tobacco’s’ target. We need your support to protect young people from a lifetime of nicotine addiction.”
Tobacco 21 legislation has been implemented on the local level in nearly 160 cities and towns across Massachusetts, including Boston, Worcester, and Lowell. Several other municipalities are considering similar regulations. Last session, Tobacco 21 legislation had widespread, bi-partisan support on Beacon Hill, with passage in the state Senate and more than 100 House sponsors. Advocates are urging lawmakers to pass this commonsense legislation statewide this year.