SJC rules in favor of Mass. town’s ban on tobacco sales to anyone born in 21st century

BROOKLINE, Mass. — The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Friday issued a ruling in favor of one town’s bylaw that bans anyone born in the 21st century from buying tobacco products.

In the ruling, the SJC upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit known as “Six Brothers Inc. vs Brookline,” in which Brookline store owners argued that the town’s tobacco ban was unconstitutional.

The lawsuit also argued that the bylaw conflicted with a 2018 statewide law that raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The SJC rejected both arguments.

“Because the bylaw falls within the type of local law limiting or prohibiting the sale of tobacco products expressly permitted by the act, and because the bylaw is not otherwise inconsistent, contrary, or conflicting with the act’s minimum age standard, we conclude that it is not preempted,” Associate Justice Dalila Argaez Wendlandt wrote in the ruling. “The bylaw is rationally related to a legitimate government interest.”

“The bylaw also is a rational alternative to an immediate and outright ban on sales of all tobacco products, preserving in-town sales to those in group one who may already suffer from addiction,” Wendlandt added. “And it provides sellers time to adjust to revenue losses that stem from shrinking tobacco product sales. For these reasons, the bylaw does not violate the guarantees of equal protection.”

The 33-page ruling also stated that local communities have a “lengthy history of regulating tobacco products to curb the adverse health effects of tobacco use.”

“For decades, such local laws have coexisted with state laws, often augmenting available statewide protections,” the ruling noted.

Brookline first adopted the groundbreaking bylaw at a special town meeting in 2020.

The bylaw ultimately became effective on Aug. 27, 2021, and enforcement commenced on Sept. 27, 2021

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