Guest Author: Richard A. Daynard
University Distinguished Professor of Law
President, Public Health Advocacy Institute
Northeastern Univeristy School of Law
On November 19, 2020 the representative town meeting of the Town of Brookline, Massachusetts voted 139 – 78 to delete references to persons under 21, and add six new words, to its previous tobacco sales age-restriction bylaw:
Prohibition of Sales – No person, firm, corporation, establishment, or agency shall sell tobacco or e-cigarette products to anyone born on or after 1/1/2000.
This small change in language represents a revolutionary shift in strategy. Previously, the policy question implied in approaches to tobacco youth access was “when do we want our children to start smoking: 18, or 21?” When confronted with this directly, most adults, even smokers, think this is a stupid question – to which the obvious answer is of course “never!”. That’s what this law will do: completely eliminate tobacco sales, while not requiring that people who had previously been legally sold tobacco products, and may well be addicted, go “cold-turkey”.
Aside from a little-noticed 2016 law in Balanga City, the Philippines, this is the first implementation anywhere of Singapore math professor Jon Berrick’s brilliant insight that age-restriction laws incorrectly suggest that there is an age after which using tobacco (unlike, say, heroin) is an acceptable choice, while actually incentivizing teenagers to take up tobacco use as an emblem of adulthood. His solution, the Tobacco Free Generation (TFG), was modeled on a methodology used a century ago to phase out opium use: ban all sales going forward, but allow sales to people who were already adults at the time of the ban.
So what can we expect (or at least hope for) going forward? That other towns, cities, states, countries will adopt this simple, commonsensical proposal (which should not raise concerns about illicit markets, since tobacco products will still be available to those already addicted). That tobacco use no longer will be associated with maturity, but simply with addiction, disease, and death. That adult smokers will be further incentivized to quit, as they become an ever-smaller minority of the population. And that tobacco use, which now kills over 7 million people worldwide, will largely disappear.