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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Tobacco-Free Generation Law

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Megan Manning
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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Tobacco-Free Generation Law
Brookline has banned the sale of tobacco to anyone born this century

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 8, 2024 – In a decision that is likely to spur similar laws in other towns, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today upheld a law in the town of Brookline that bans the sale of tobacco products to anyone born on or after January 1, 2000. The gradual phase-out of tobacco sales based on birthdate is often called Tobacco-Free Generation (TFG). The law forbids only commercial sales, not the purchase, possession, or use of tobacco, meaning the act of smoking is not criminalized.

Read the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision here>

“This is an important day for myself, my family, my neighbors, and my state,” said Katharine Silbaugh, a Brookline resident who co-sponsored the law. “This decision secures the right of Massachusetts towns to protect their residents’ health by phasing out the sale of tobacco.” Ms. Silbaugh is also a professor of law at Boston University.

Brookline’s Tobacco-Free Generation law was first passed at a town meeting on November 17, 2020. Before passing the law, Brookline sought an opinion from then-Attorney General – and now Governor – Maura Healey, who concluded that the policy was not preempted by state law. The law has remained in force during litigation, and people 23 years of age or younger cannot be sold tobacco in Brookline. The Public Health Advocacy Institute at the Northeastern University School of Law provided legal counsel to Brookline pro bono.

The lawsuit leading to today’s decision was brought by a pair of retailers in Brookline, who argued that the policy is preempted by state law, despite the existing legal opinion saying the opposite. The original case was thrown out on a motion to dismiss, and the plaintiffs appealed to the state supreme court.

“This is a watershed moment in the history of the tobacco wars,” said Laurent Huber, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health, an advocacy group that six years ago launched Project Sunset, a global campaign to phase out the sale of commercial tobacco products. “It signals that we’ve moved from mitigating the death and disease from tobacco to ending it.”

Tobacco remains the biggest cause of preventable death in the U.S. and the world. Nearly half a million Americans die from tobacco each year. It also costs the U.S. more than $300 billion annually in health care costs and lost productivity.

About 70% of people who smoke want to quit and wish they hadn’t started. Nearly all hope their children don’t become addicted. Nicotine is one of the most addictive chemicals known to science, and most adults who smoke became addicted as children.

Brookline has a history of being on the cutting edge of policies to fight tobacco. It was the first town in Massachusetts to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, and among the first to ban all flavors in tobacco products, including menthol. Massachusetts was also the first state to ban all flavors in tobacco products.

Two cities in California – Beverly Hills and Manhattan Beach – have banned tobacco sales altogether, and Dolgeville, New York and Bloomington and Little Canada, Minnesota have laws phasing out tobacco retail licenses. Three Massachusetts towns held hearings on a possible Tobacco-Free Generation law in November 2023. Great Britain’s parliament is also considering a Tobacco-Free Generation law.

The Tobacco Endgame movement is here and will no doubt save countless lives by accelerating the end of the tobacco epidemic.


Founded in 1967, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is America’s oldest anti-tobacco organization, dedicated to a world with ZERO tobacco deaths. Because tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, ASH supports bold solutions proportionate to the magnitude of the problem. ash.org