I was thrilled to read in the current issue of CommonWealth Magazine that the city of Salem has joined a growing number of Massachusetts cities and towns to advance public health efforts in their communities by raising the legal age for cigarette purchases to 21*. The Massachusetts Hospital Association (MHA) fully supports making 21 the minimum age for cigarette purchases state-wide, a move that is currently under consideration in New Jersey, even though an earlier effort to do so here in the Bay State was not successful.
Increasing the age at which individuals can buy cigarettes – or any tobacco product – is a common sense way to promote population health. According to the US Surgeon General, almost no one starts smoking after age 25, and almost 90% of smokers started by age 18.
Massachusetts has a strong legacy of leadership in this area – the town of Needham, Massachusetts is widely recognized as the first municipality to boost its smoking age to 21 – back in 2005. The results have been dramatic: the smoking rate in Needham is now less than half the Massachusetts average of 18 percent.
Massachusetts hospitals have also led the way to serve and protect their communities by curbing tobacco use both inside and outside their facility walls.
In 2011, MHA launched a statewide tobacco free initiative and now 76% of our member hospitals completely ban the use of tobacco products anywhere on their campuses. In addition, some hospitals in Massachusetts, as well as MHA, have taken their commitment to public health a step beyond instituting a tobacco-free campus and have adopted tobacco-free hiring policies as well. MHA stopped hiring tobacco users as of January 1, 2011. These facilities have all earned inclusion on MHA's Tobacco-free Honor Roll.
Tobacco use remains the number one cause of preventable death in the nation, and hundreds of millions of dollars are lost each year in lost productivity due to illness and premature death caused by tobacco consumption. Raising the legal purchasing age across Massachusetts would be another good step in the right direction.
* (Along with Needham and Salem, the Massachusetts Municipal Association reports communities that have raised the legal cigarette purchasing age to 21 include Arlington, Ashland, Canton, Dedham, Dover, Hudson, Norwood, Reading, Scituate, Sharon, Wakefield, Wellesley and Winchester; and communities that raised the minimum age to 19 are Brookline, Belmont, Newburyport Sudbury, Walpole, Watertown and Westwood.)