Massachusetts Court Upholds Brookline's Age-Restricted Tobacco Rule

Consumers born in 2000 or later cannot legally buy tobacco products within the town.
Angela Hanson
tobacco sales at retail

BROOKLINE, Mass. — A Massachusetts town ordinance banning tobacco sales to anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 2000, will go forward, potentially paving the way for similar bylaws.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the rule, which was passed in 2020 at a Brookline town meeting. Brookline has approximately 60,000 residents and is located near Boston. 

Opponents of the ordinance, including convenience store operators, argued that it conflicts with a 2018 Massachusetts state law that allows those aged 21 and up to purchase tobacco products and that allowing it to stand would establish two sets of adults: those who can buy cigarettes and those who can't, reported the Associated Press.

[Read more: Lawmakers Reach Out to Convenience Industry Over Sales of Illegal Vapor Products]

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However, supporters pointed out that Massachusetts state law recognizes the authority of local communities to take steps to limit the sale of harmful products. Before passing the rule, which took effect in 2021, then-Massachusetts Attorney General and current Governor Maura Healey provided an opinion that the policy was not preempted by state law.

The ordinance took effect in 2021 and remained in effect during litigation.

The state's Supreme Judicial Court agreed with Brookline and supporters of the ordinance, finding that Massachusetts' cities and towns "have a lengthy history" of regulating tobacco products in order to mitigate their adverse health effects.

"Importantly, state laws and local ordinances and bylaws can and often do exist side by side," the court wrote. "This is particularly true of local ordinances and bylaws regulating public health, the importance of which we have long acknowledged."

[Read more: The Future of Flavored Tobacco Products Remains Up in the Air]

The New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association is looking into a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Executive Director Peter Brennan, who noted that the ordinance targets tobacco and did not change sales restrictions for marijuana.

"It's a question of how else can we demonize this product," Brennan said. "It's about trying to be a trendsetter, tying to be first in the nation."

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers of Massachusetts Association, also criticized the ruling, noting that a patchwork of local ordinances "doesn't make sense for interstate commerce."

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