Property Rights: MA Hingham



Hingham update…

Hingham: Should you be 21 to buy tobacco products?

“Changing the age would help eliminate that supply route,” Hingham Health Agent Bruce Capman said. “[The premise is that] young people 21 and older would be more mature and less likely to sell tobacco products to minors.”

A well-known pediatrician paid a visit to a recent Hingham Board of Health meeting to make a pitch for the town potentially raising the minimum age for buying cigarettes from 18 to 21.

Dr. Lester J. Hartman, a member of the Westwood-Mansfield Pediatric Associates practice since 1986, has already addressed the subject with a number of other communities and continues to do so, with the same goal in mind. The thought behind this effort, which began a year and a half ago, is that “town by town we could [potentially] change the regulations,” he said.

When asked why age 21, Hartman said that research shows that young people ages 18 to 20 are the main suppliers of tobacco products to younger kids.

“Changing the age would help eliminate that supply route,” Hingham Health Agent Bruce Capman said. “[The premise is that] young people 21 and older would be more mature and less likely to sell tobacco products to minors.”

In the beginning, when he was working on his own, Hartman had limited success. “Then I met with Dr. Jonathan Winickoff of Mass General who had written many articles about the effects of tobacco on children and we started working together,” Hartman said. This helped move the effort forward.

Quite a few towns have already gone this route, Hartman said, including Arlington, Needham, Scituate, Wellesley, Sharon, Canton, Dedham, Norwood, Hudson, Ashland, Westford, Dover, Brimfield, West Boylston, Melrose, Reading, Wakefield, and Winchester. Some did it on their own while others followed their lead.

“We’re hoping that there will be a tipping point where we have enough support for this initiative for it to become legislation,” Hartman said, “but it has to start at the community level.”

He noted that while the New England Convenience Store Association opposes raising the smoking age, “not a single convenience store went out of business when Needham raised theirs.”

Hartman went on to say, “This is the most preventable cause of death [from smoking and secondhand smoke] in the United States today. I’ve attended more than 50 meetings and hearings about this issue with no plans to stop because I think it will help save the lives of young kids [who might otherwise start smoking at an early age],” he said. “Statistics show that 90 percent of lifetime smokers say they started smoking before the age of 21.”

While some wonder if the age is raised won’t young smokers travel to nearby towns that have a lower smoking age in order to buy cigarettes? Statistics don’t show that to be the case so far, according to Hartman.

He also explained, “The seat of judgment in the brain is the frontal lobe, which is very vulnerable to nicotine during its development. Studies show that using tobacco products could potentially affect the structure of the developing brain because the frontal lobe doesn’t fully mature until age 25. This makes it vulnerable to various substances, including nicotine and tobacco smoke.”

Looking back, some time ago Hartman, who holds a Masters in Public Health, collaborated with Children’s Hospital to change the Longwood Street entrance to reduce children’s exposure to tobacco as they walked from the parking lot.

“At the time there were children with oxygen tanks walking by people who were smoking,” he recalled.
Capman said the Health Board is doing some research of its own and will address the issue at a future meeting.

“Under Mass General Laws, individual health boards have the right to set any reasonable regulations they think [are appropriate],” Capman said. “The overall goal is to educate young people and to discourage them from trying smoking at an early age.”

A tobacco regulations discussion is on the Board of Health’s May 22 agenda.


Originally written By Carol Britton Meyer

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