Tobacco Purchase Age Now 21

Andrew Botolino, Staff Writer

On November 30, the Barnstable Board of Health passed a law that prohibited the purchase of any tobacco or nicotine products to anyone under the age of 21. This toughens the bill passed by Gov. Charlie Baker in July, which enforces the same thing — however, under the state bill, anyone in the age bracket of 18 to 21 would have been “grandfathered-in,” meaning that all persons who turned 18 before 2019 could still purchase tobacco products.

At the start of his campaign, the tobacco and nicotine age wasn’t something State Rep. Will Crocker of the 2nd Barnstable district was advocating for or against. It was on his radar, but only a blip. But looking further into the marketing of these products, Crocker said he became concerned with “a movement by the tobacco companies towards trying to market their product to younger members — teenagers, people under the age of 18 specifically — through their advertising.”

JUUL, the infamous company that is dominating the vaping industry, has faced backlash like this for their marketing schemes, and has swapped young adults for former smokers in their ads, and changed pod flavors like “cool cucumber” and “creme brulee” to simply “cucumber” and “creme,” respectively. The FDA then took matters into their own hands this fall, prohibiting the sale of all flavors except and tobacco and menthol/mint variations at gas stations and convenience stores.

Still, many, like Crocker, doubt whether this is even enough to “delay the availability of products to someone who is underage.”

Instead, the Massachusetts lawmakers have confidence that raising the purchasing age will do that. “If we raise the age to 21, there would be a possibility of a young adult deciding when they were older not to smoke,” Crocker said. When they’re older and haven’t tried it, or maybe tried it but did not become involved in it, they would be more mature, and more likely to not start.”

But, what about the young adults and teenagers who have already become addicted?

One recent Barnstable High School graduate, now 19, first picked up a JUUL sophomore year.

“Looking back on it, I never should’ve done it. I wish I could go back and tell myself not to start.”

It’s an expensive addiction, and another 20 year-old BHS grad exclaimed, “It feels like [JUUL] has been stealing my money.”

Now that the law is in effect, Crocker noted that “the whole JUUL process is something that we really need to look into. It’s gotten so popular so quick that there needs to be long-term research on it.”

  However, additional research isn’t necessary to prove the fact that nicotine is addictive — so much so that it ranked third, behind heroin and cocaine, on CNN’s list of the world’s most addictive substances.

While the other four substances on this list, including barbiturates and alcohol, all have abuse and recovery programs in place to aid addiction, programs for nicotine addiction, specifically nicotine from JUUL or another vaping device, seem few and far between.

“If I’m going to quit now, it’s kind of like I have to do it on my own,” the 19 year-old said.

In the future, there may be recovery aids in place for the vaping epidemic, and Crocker explained that laws like this have only started the process of keeping tobacco and nicotine products away from teenagers — there still is work to be done.

“Local government — the government that is closest to the people — is the most effective,” he explained. “The school board, principals and superintendent make rules for their students and faculty, just like the local government does for its communities.”