Cambridge Raises Tobacco Purchasing Age to 21

The Cambridge City Council passed amendments to the Tobacco Ordinance last week that raise the age to legally purchase tobacco in Cambridge from 18 to 21, while also designating more public spaces as smoke-free and placing limits on the use of electronic cigarettes, according to Cambridge City Councillor Marc C. McGovern.

The Public Health Department followed its initial proposal in October with two options for the amendments in December, and the Council ultimately favored Option B with additional changes. The changes include that e-cigarettes will not be allowed in restaurants and that fenced in “tot lots”—areas where children play—and tot lots at Clement Morgan Park and Raymond Park will become smoke-free areas, McGovern wrote in an email.

The amendment to the ordinance will not take effect until June 2015 in order to give businesses notice of the new policy. Businesses will be required to check for age verification to sell tobacco to anyone under the age of 26.

Although e-cigarette smoking will be banned inside restaurants, smoking that involves hookah or water pipes will be allowed in outdoor restaurant seating if the area does not reside on a public sidewalk, according to an exemption in the ordinance amendments.

Only retail tobacco stores may sell flavored tobacco under the approved amendments.


“This is going to be one of the most significant public health decisions we’ve made,” McGovern said in an interview Wednesday.

McGovern said he hopes the ordinance will limit smoking by 16- and 17-year-olds in Cambridge.

“I see it everyday at the high school where I work,” he said. “At lunch the 18 year-old goes up to the corner store and hands cigarettes to a 15 year-old. [If the ordinance amendment is followed], that’s not going to happen anymore.”

The amendments to the ordinance passed last week are limited in scope relative to the original October proposal, which aimed to ban smoking in municipal open spaces, city benches, and city parks. In part due to opposition from the Cambridge Citizens for Smokers’ Rights, the further amended “Option B” prohibits smoking in parks less than 15,000 square feet in size, tot lots, and city events held on public open space.

Dharma Kafle, who works at Out-of-Town News in Harvard Square, said Wednesday that he had no knowledge of the ordinance amendments. Kafle estimated that more than 100 students buy tobacco there each day, the number of buyers peaking over the summertime.

“If we raised [the age], maybe they’ll go outside, give another person money [to buy tobacco by proxy],” he said.

Daniel E. Hughes ’18, a self-described “libertarian,” said he strongly disagreed with the change to the tobacco sales age.

“Making the age higher will only increase the image of tobacco (and of other substances such as alcohol) as a ‘forbidden substance’ and will then only further incentivize teens to use these substances,” he wrote in an email.

—Staff writer Samuel E. Liu can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @samuelliu96.


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