Massachusetts high court upholds town's generational tobacco sales ban

 March 10, 2024

In a highly controversial move, the highest court in Massachusetts has upheld the validity of a ban in a suburban community that prevents an entire generation from purchasing tobacco products, as NBC Boston reports.

Specifically, the state's Supreme Judicial Court has permitted the city of Brookline to enforce its ban on the sale of tobacco to anyone born in this century, spurring reactions from all sides.

Controversy's legislative underpinnings

As the Boston Herald explains, it was back in 2018 that state legislators took action to halt the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.

That move raised the minimum purchase age from 18 and set the stage for the controversy that followed.

According to its terms, the “Tobacco Act” purports to preempt “inconsistent, contrary or conflicting local law” implicating the minimum purchase age but permits localities to limit or even ban the sale of tobacco products within their jurisdictional boundaries.

As such, Brookline approved a bylaw back in 2020 that put tobacco purchasers into two distinct buckets, those born prior to 2000 and those born after the start of the new century.

Ban upheld

This week, Justice Dalila Argaez Wendlandt of the Supreme Judicial Court explained the reasoning behind the decision upholding Brookline's ban.

She declared the prohibition consistent with state law and “rationally related to a legitimate government interest” in keeping with the standard of review required for questions implicating the state constitution's equal protection provisions.

Wendlandt went on to write, “The bylaw's birthdate classification, starting in the year 2000, is rationally related to the town's legitimate interest in mitigating tobacco use overall and in particular by minors.”

Her opinion continued, adding, “The bylaw also is a rational alternative to an immediate and outright ban on sales of all tobacco products, preserving in-town sales” to those who meet the age requirement and who “may already suffer from addiction.”

“And it provides sellers time to adjust to revenue losses that stem from shrinking tobacco product sales,” Wendlandt opined.

Reactions pour in

Joe Callanan, Brookline town counsel was unsurprisingly quite pleased with the outcome, stating on Friday, “By affirming a lower court's dismissal of the tobacco industry's challenge of the bylaw, the state's highest court validated the town's legitimate interest in mitigating tobacco use overall, and in particular in the case of minors.”

Massachusetts Health and Human Services Director Sigalle Reiss had a similar reaction, stating, “The SJC has today handed a victory to public health leaders who have been searching for a way out -- a way for our next generation to avoid falling victim to the many pitfalls of tobacco use.”

However, the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association took the opposite view, issuing a statement of disappointment and noting, “The Brookline bylaw does not target youth tobacco usage. Instead, it bans a growing class of adults from legally purchasing any tobacco or nicotine product in the town. Our retailers will be negatively impacted when they lose customers to neighboring towns,”

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
© 2015 - 2024 Conservative Institute. All Rights Reserved.