Teenagers from across Massachusetts gathered at the State House Wednesday to voice support for legislation that would increase the age of sale of tobacco products to 21 statewide.
The 21 young activists each shared one reason why they support raising the age of sale before meeting with legislators to discuss the bill, “An Act to Protect Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction.”
“I support the cause because my mother started smoking when she was 17, and she hasn’t stopped yet,” said Hayli Manning, 16, of Holbrook. “I try to talk to her all the time about it, but she’s very addicted.”
Sarah Ryan, 16, of Holbrook said she backed the move because nicotine affects the brain development of teenagers, and with the age of sale for the state currently at 18, tobacco is still popular in high schools.
“Maybe you don’t think of tobacco as the same thing as other substances, but they all affect how the brain grows and develops,” she said. “Using nicotine at such a young age can make you way more susceptible to addiction.”
Students from various antitobacco organizations agreed that with the current age of sale for the state, it’s incredibly easy for high-schoolers to get tobacco products.
“It doesn’t really matter if the town age is 21; you can drive to the next town over,” Manning said. “We have friends who are 18, so hypothetically they can drive someone over to another town and purchase tobacco there, and it wouldn’t be an issue.”
Laziah Ceaser, 15, of Springfield said, “The harder it is to get it, the harder it is for you to get addicted. You’re saving your life by not smoking.”
The older you are when you try smoking, the less likely you are to get addicted, according to Kevin O’Flaherty, director of advocacy for the northeast region of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
He said 65 percent of the state, more than 160 communities, currently have the age of sale at 21.
“They’re going to have far more influence than I’m going to have as just some suit,” he said.
State Representative Paul McMurtry, a Dedham Democrat who was a sponsor of the bill, said O’Flaherty is probably right.
“It’s really gratifying for me to see young students from across the Commonwealth here today,” he said. “Their advocacy, their voice, definitely makes a difference and will have an impact.”
McMurtry said 104 of his colleagues have already expressed agreement with the bill. That level of support is promising, he said. Ryan and her fellow activists agreed.Alyssa Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ameyers_.