Local, state and federal laws related to tobacco

Many laws limiting youth access to tobacco products and providing protection from secondhand smoke are passed and enforced at the local level. Statewide laws regulating tobacco products apply to all communities in the Commonwealth. Statewide laws are passed by the Massachusetts State Legislature and enforced by various state agencies.
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Table of Contents

Local ordinances, bylaws and regulations

Local regulations are enacted through community efforts, often guided by local boards of health. Many cities and towns in Massachusetts have passed tobacco and nicotine delivery product related provisions. These provisions fall into two broad categories:

  • Restricting youth access and exposure to tobacco and nicotine delivery products
  • Restricting public exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and e-cigarette vapor

However, nearly every local regulation on these subjects is unique. Many are posted on each respective municipality’s website, or can be obtained from your local board of health.

Learn more about tobacco and key local tobacco policies in your community.

See the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards’ sample regulation restricting the sale of tobacco products

Statewide laws

Massachusetts has many laws that govern tobacco:

Tobacco excise taxes

As of July 1, 2013, the excise tax imposed on cigarettes under M.G.L. 64C increased to $3.51 per pack. The cigar and smoking tobacco excise imposed by M.G.L. 64C increased from 30% to 40% of the wholesale price of the products, and smokeless tobacco products increased from 90% to 210% of the wholesale price.

Cigarettes are also required, under M.G.L. 64C, to be sold at a minimum price as determined by the Department of Revenue (DOR). DOR periodically updates the lowest price at which each cigarette brand may be sold.

Smoke-free Workplace Law

The Massachusetts Smoke-free Workplace Law prohibits smoking in schools, restaurants and bars, taxis, private offices, and other places of work. This law (MGL chapter 270, section 22, "An Act to Improve the Public Health in the Commonwealth"went into effect on July 5, 2004 to protect employees and the public from secondhand smoke and amends the 1988 Massachusetts Clean Indoor Air Law.

In addition, many cities and towns have local smoke-free regulations that are stricter than the state law. For information about local tobacco-related regulations, contact your local health department/board of health.

Complaints

If you observe a violation of the Smoke-Free Workplace Law, you can file a complaint. Learn how to report a Smoke-free Workplace Law or other tobacco related violation.

Signage

Official No Smoking signs and other relevant signage are available free of charge at the Massachusetts Health Promotion Clearinghouse

Smoke-Free Law resources for Boards of Health

Smoke-Free Schools

Laws regarding tobacco sales to minors

It is illegal to sell tobacco products to persons under the age of 18 in Massachusetts, including e-cigarettes. Some cities and towns may have stricter sales policies than the state law.

As a part of Massachusetts Consumer Protection Regulations, tobacco retailers are required to ask for identification of individuals who appear to be under the age of 27. To assist with this requirement, local boards of health conduct regular tobacco retailer education trainings to teach store managers and employees about local and state tobacco sales laws and how to check identification. If you are a store owner, contact your local board of health to inquire about in-person trainings.

Additional laws and regulations

Licensing

Retailers who wish to sell tobacco products must obtain a state tobacco license. Licenses can be purchased through the Department of Revenue. The Department of Revenue also sets and monitors price minimums for tobacco products. All questions should be directed to (617) 887-5090.

Most communities also require separate local tobacco licenses, and many require licenses to sell nicotine delivery products. These are obtained from the local board of health or municipality. Contact your local board of health for more information.

Federal laws

Federal laws pertaining to smoking govern federal buildings, federal courthouses, military installations and airplanes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products regulates the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

Federal law also governs federal excise taxes.

Synar Report

In July 1992, Congress enacted the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act, which included an amendment (Section 1926) aimed at reducing youth access to tobacco products. Named for its sponsor, Congressman Mike Synar of Oklahoma, the Synar Amendment requires states to enact and enforce laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 18, and to conduct random, unannounced inspections to ensure compliance with the law.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is required to submit the Annual Synar Report to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP). The Annual Synar Report describes the progress that Massachusetts has made in enforcing youth access laws and outlines future plans to reduce the tobacco industry’s influence on youth.

Additional resources

 

    How tobacco laws are enforced

    Compliance Checks — Tobacco Sales to Minors

    Local boards of health conduct retailer inspections to assess compliance with local regulations that prohibit the sale of tobacco to minors.

    Penalties for the sale of tobacco products to minors are assessed and levied by local boards of health. These include warnings, fines, and/or suspensions of local tobacco sales permits for repeat violations.

    Separate from local enforcement, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducts compliance checks on tobacco retailers. Municipalities can search for retailers who have undergone an FDA compliance check on the FDA’s website.

    Tobacco retail store inspections

    Local boards of health conduct retail store inspections to determine if tobacco sales permits and/or required signs are posted, and if stores illegally sell tobacco products in self-service displays or vending machines.

    The Massachusetts Department of Revenue conducts inspections to confirm compliance with tobacco tax stamp laws and the minimum price of the sale of tobacco.

    Additional resources

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