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Should Pembroke raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products in the town to 21?



Mike Cogburn

Founder and chairman, Pembroke Titans Against Drugs

Mike Cogburn.handout

As of last month more than 140 towns and cities in Massachusetts had raised the tobacco sale age to 21. Pembroke should follow suit. Here are some of the reasons:

1. Tobacco use is a health hazard.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in our country. We all understand that tobacco leads to health problems, from heart disease to various cancers. I won’t insult your intelligence here.

2. Tobacco use is established during adolescence.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use is primarily started and established during adolescence, a time when brains are developing and uniquely vulnerable to the addictive effects of nicotine.


Dosomething.org’s “Facts About Teen Smoking” and other sources note that 90 percent of smokers began before age 19, and 30 percent of teen smokers continue to smoke and will die early from a smoking-related disease. Teen smokers are also more likely to have panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and depression. So, why wouldn’t we discourage use with any tools that we have available?

3. Raising the minimum purchase age will help our kids.

Reducing the number of potential buyers in our youths’ social circles puts them in a better position to live longer, healthier lives. Period. In fact, communities that have done this have seen significant declines in youth smoking. Take Needham, which became the first “Tobacco 21” city in 2005. For the five years following this change, 30-day tobacco use by 10th- to 12th-graders was virtually cut in half (from 13 percent to 7 percent).

First and foremost, though, we need to educate our youth on the dangers and effects of all drugs, including tobacco, and to encourage them to make healthy decisions as a community.


Whether we are their parents, coaches, teachers, or neighbors, they’re listening to us.

Regardless of the age required to purchase tobacco, let’s keep the right messages front and center for them – that we want the best lives possible for them. Raising the age will help reinforce that message. Heck, maybe they’ll ask why the age was raised. Wouldn’t it be great to have another opportunity to tell them why? Each one of them deserves to hear it anyway.


Lisa Wells

General manager of Smoke & Ashes Tobacco Co., with seven locations south of Boston including two in Pembroke

Lisa Wells.handout

Raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco to 21 is an overreach of authority by local government promoted by outside influences. It is a feel-good move by a small group of people lacking the mandate to take this argument to the state level. It is the easy path, using local authority, to infringe on the rights of adults living in our communities.

Legal age in our society is 18. That is the age you can vote, go to war, marry, secure a loan, and pursue a life of personal choices. Arbitrary restrictions forced upon legal adults need to be resisted. This is the time for Pembroke to say “No, thank you, we will make these decisions for ourselves.”

Many local tobacco age restriction laws are drafted using language provided by outside organizations. Unfortunately, in many instances they do not stop at restricting tobacco age; they dovetail numerous other provisions into these laws. The measures often restrict entire categories of product, such as flavored tobacco; prohibit adult tobacco stores from selling other retail items like soda; and bar those under legal age from even entering those businesses.


Even without restrictions, declining tobacco sales have forced adult retail tobacco shops to offer other products to make up for lost revenue. To survive, traditional smoke shops, such as ours, have added items that appeal to the nonsmoker. But restrictive local laws are hurting those efforts to diversify. When Whitman raised the tobacco age to 21 and barred underage people from entering adult tobacco shops, our Whitman location felt an immediate impact, with nontobacco products the hardest-hit category.

We urge Pembroke to support local business and resist being influenced locally by a decision that should be made at the state level. Age restriction simply drives business down the road. Purchasing will not stop; it will relocate.

We need to raise our voices against those who insist they know what is good for us; “21+” is an argument that should be offered at the State House, not force-fed through local boards of health. Common sense and fair business practice must prevail. Adults are capable of making decisions for themselves.

Last week’s Argument: Should Bristol County inmates help build the proposed wall on the Mexican border?

Yes: 22 percent (8 votes)

No: 78 percent (28 votes)

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.