From the Sentinel & Enterprise
By Nick Mallard
When it came time for legislators to vote on Bill H. 4784 recently, Sen. Dean Tran made a difficult decision.
The Republican from Fitchburg balanced his thoughts on the topic at hand -- raising the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 -- and voted no.
The House of Representatives passed the legislation, 146-3, while the Senate approved it, 32-3. Tran was one of three Republicans -- Don Humason of Westfield and Ryan Fattman of Webster were the others -- opposed to the age increase.
Reps. Marc Lombardo of Billerica, Colleen Garry of Dracut and James Lyons of Andover also voted against the bill.
For Tran, the choice was "pretty simple."
"Once one reaches the age of 18 in this country, they're considered an adult," he said Sunday. "You're able to vote, you can join the military and die for your country. You should be able to make the decision as to whether or not you want to use tobacco, as well."
Legislators who supported the bill point to the $9.5 billion the tobacco industry spent in 2016 on marketing its products to young people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection.
Sue Chalifoux Zephir, a Leominster Democrat who will oppose Tran in this fall's election for the Middlesex and Worcester state Senate seat, said she "certainly would have supported the bill."
"I think raising the age to legally purchase tobacco products is a good idea," Chalifoux Zephir said.
"Nicotine is such an addictive substance, like alcohol or marijuana, and things of that nature should be dealt with consistently in the state."It costs billions of dollars in public health care for what amounts to preventable health issues. Not smoking or quitting goes a long way toward eliminating that."
Tran admits that health risks come with tobacco use, but argues that people 18 and older should educate themselves on the risks. He said that activities as adults come with consequences, but that young adults shouldn't be taken out of the picture.
"There can be grave consequences for things people vote for, but 18-year-olds are still allowed to vote," he said.
The senator said its a disturbing trend he sees with many bills: taking away the rights of young adults.
"They're saying that someone who is 20 years and 11 months isn't mature enough to make decisions for themselves," Tran said. "Many of the bills I see set precedents that take away rights and property from young people. It's government continuing its intrusion into lives and I find it disturbing."
Chalifoux Zephir contends that legislation like this simply does the job of government: protecting its constituents. She compared it to the state lowering the drinking age to 18 when she was in high school, only to have it raised to 21 after accidents increased.
"Raising the age might not stop everyone from buying tobacco once they're older, but it will keep seniors in high school from buying for their younger friends," she said. "It can delay that, especially with companies so aggressively marketing e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco to younger people. Marketing research from these companies has shown that the longer you go without trying tobacco products, the less likely you are to end up using them."