Rapidly Changing Tobacco Regulations Across Massachusetts

A significant number of Massachusetts cities and towns modified their tobacco regulations or bylaws during 2013 in an effort to minimize sales to minors and otherwise curb the use of tobacco products. In some towns, such as Canton, Ashland and Arlington, the legal age to purchase tobacco products was increased to 19, while in other communities, including Brookline, Watertown and Walpole, the legal age to purchase tobacco products was increased to 21. Some communities adopted regulations banning smoking in all public places and workplaces. Efforts have also been made to address the rising use of so-called “e-cigarettes” or “electronic cigarettes.”

Some Boards of Health, including those in Dedham and West Springfield, issued regulations prohibiting the sale of tobacco products by health care facilities. For example, the Dedham Board of Health stated: “…the sale of tobacco products… is incompatible with the mission of health care facilities because it is detrimental to the public health and undermines efforts to educate patients on the safe and effective use of medication.” This Board of Health defined “health care facilities” to include not only traditional hospitals and doctor offices, but also retailers whose operations include a pharmacy or health clinic component. As a result, these regulations impact a wide range of retailers, including supermarkets, warehouse membership clubs and drug stores. In some instances, some of these retailers have resisted the breadth or so-called unintended consequences of the regulations, and have actively petitioned the Boards of Health to address their concerns, such as by proposing that the wholesale sale of tobacco (i.e., sale to re-sellers) be carved out of certain tobacco regulations or that the definition of health care facilities be narrowly tailored to exclude what they consider unintended operations (e.g., a vision center). In other instances, retailers have supported the regulations. For example, CVS Caremark has voluntarily elected to cease the sale of tobacco products nationwide.

The regulations finally adopted and issued by various local governments have often reflected the aggregate input of activists, doctors, students and businesses. These parties will likely want to pay close attention to further proposed changes to tobacco regulations in other Massachusetts cities and towns in 2014.

Related topics: Compliance, Retail, Retail Sales