Massachusetts later this month will join with a majority of the other states and ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. New statewide regulations will fill a void that led to a patchwork of local rules about the product that is growing in popularity while the health risks are unknown.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office announced this week that regulations have been finalized to establish 18 as the minimum age to legally purchase the electronic smoking devices known as e-cigarettes. The new rules, which take effect Sept. 25th, prohibit free giveaways or sampling, require the products be kept behind counters accessible only to store employees and ban vending machine sales except in adults-only establishments.
Healey announced the proposed regulations earlier this year at a Statehouse press conference attended by anti-smoking activists.
" E-cigarette use has surpassed traditional cigarette use by young people and that is the problem, that is why I am proposing these regulations," said Healey.
The new rules essentially extend long-standing regulations on tobacco products to include e-cigarettes, which are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid or gel to create a nicotine vapor that is inhaled.
Critics of e-cigarettes say the devices are a gateway to later tobacco use, while others claim the nicotine vapor has helped wean people off smoking.
A recent survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 2013 and 2014, the percentage of high school students smoking cigarettes went from 15.7 percent to 9.2 percent, while the use of e-cigarettes tripled among high school students.
The regulations do not ban candy-flavored e-cigarettes but the nicotine liquid or gel must be sold in child-resistant packaging. That regulation takes effect next March.
The new regulations won’t impact business for many of the state’s e-cigarette vendors since 152 municipalities had already enacted local laws banning sales of the product to minors. Some cities and towns have raised the age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 and have included e-cigarettes.
State Representative Jose Tosado of Springfield said it is probably wise to treat e-cigarettes the same as traditional tobacco products.
" They are billed as a safe alternative to tobacco, but we don't know about the long term affects," said Tosado.
State law bans tobacco smoking in the workplace, including bars and restaurants. But for now, businesses are on their own when it comes to allowing employees or customers to puff on e-cigarettes.
The Springfield Housing Authority earlier this year banned e-cigarettes from all its properties. Authority Executive Director William Abrashkin said it is a logical extension to the smoking ban that was put in place in 2012.
The National Park Service is banning e-cigarettes in all areas where tobacco smoking is prohibited.