Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass students criticize new tobacco law

By David McLellan

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

A recent policy passed in Amherst which has raised the age requirements to purchase tobacco has the support of the town’s health director but has drawn criticism from University of Massachusetts students.

The Amherst Board of Health adopted regulations that ban the sale of cigarettes and all other tobacco products to anyone under 21-years-old on Aug. 15. Amherst is no stranger to anti-smoking policies, with smoking already being prohibited in the work place and at town-sponsored events.

A group of in-state pediatricians looking to raise the age of sale for tobacco products contacted the town’s health director Julie Federman. Federman relayed the information to the Board of Health, who subsequently passed the new policy.

“Just around the time that they were going to vote on these regulations, the Institute of Medicine came out with their report. Their research was showing that if you raise the age to buy tobacco to 21, that it does reduce the amount of new smokers of younger ages,” Federman said.

“They (Board of Health) really try and base their regulations on scientific research rather than just popular opinion,” Federman said.

Federman also noted that tobacco companies often target teenagers with their advertising in order to gain “customers for life.” She strongly believes this new policy will work to counteract that.
However, some students at UMass see the new policy as an abridgment of personal freedom.

“I think that it’s a violation of our rights, in a sense,” said Joe Bender, a sophomore. “It’s hypocritical for the government to say we can do things like join the military and then have local government pass laws restricting our freedom to smoke.”
Bender added: “I just don’t think it’s the towns place to pass laws like this. It really just creates a hassle for people who already do smoke.”

Mike McNelly, a junior physics major, called the regulation “a nuisance.”
“I’m not 21 yet, so I have to drive to Hadley to get my cigarettes now,” McNelly said. “I think it definitely makes sense trying to prevent teenagers from starting smoking but this law affects people like me. I imagine it probably isn’t the greatest for local business either.”

Federman said Amherst used to provide smoking-cessation programs, but the money used for such programs was reapportioned by the state to pay for things like infrastructure. According to her, that makes new anti-smoking policies like this more important.
Federman emphasized that the anti-smoking policies are not anti-smoker but are anti-tobacco and pro public health.

“We’re realistic. We know that the fact of the matter is people smoke and have a right to smoke,” Federman said. “We just don’t want new smokers who often times are adolescents and teenagers.
“People do and should have the ability to make their own choices,” Federman said. “It’s not illegal to smoke. You just can no longer buy tobacco under the age of 21.”

David McLellan can be reached at [email protected]

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