The Belmont Board of Health voted this week to raise the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 19 years old, according to board chairman David Alper.
“It’s a tool to keep the cigarettes out of the school,” said Alper. “You certainly have 18-year-olds in 12th grade… If you don’t have kids that have cigarettes you don’t have kids that can bum cigarettes.”
Alper said that he was inspired to bring the idea before the board by an article he read in the Globe about an effort to raise the smoking age in Brookline.
“It was really an ah-ha moment when I read it,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, why don’t we do this?’”
Smoking age in Belmont is governed by regulation, not bylaw, said Alper, which means that the Board of Health doesn’t need Town Meeting approval to change it.
“It’s pretty much a done deal,” he said.
The only stumbling block now: the signs that the state gives out with the smoking age on them all say 18.
The first town in the state to raise the smoking age from 18 to 19 was Needham in 2001. The town has since raised the age even further, to 21, according to Janice Berns, director of the Needham Health Department.
Several other communities are considering doing the same thing, said Berns, but she was not aware of any that had actually made the switch.
Since Needham has raised the smoking age, she said, the rate of high school students smoking has fallen by about 50 percent.
“The premise was just that the Board of Health wanted to try to not have cigarettes so easily available, just making it harder,” she said. “What we’ve seen in the youth risk surveys done in the schools is that the smoking rate continues to come down.”
Alper said that he hopes to have the new regulation implemented by July – or even sooner.
“It was cost neutral, it did a lot of good, and it couldn’t do any harm,” he said. “It was a no-brainer.”
Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com