Home News Health Supreme Judicial Court Affirms Dismissal Of Tobacco Industry’s Challenge, Upholds Brookline’s Tobacco-Free...

Supreme Judicial Court Affirms Dismissal Of Tobacco Industry’s Challenge, Upholds Brookline’s Tobacco-Free Generation Bylaw

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In a win for health and wellness advocates and for the vitality and importance of municipal government, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has upheld Brookline’s Tobacco-Free Generation Bylaw, banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after January 1, 2000.

“By affirming a lower court’s dismissal of the tobacco industry’s challenge of the bylaw, the state’s highest court validated the town’s legitimate interest in mitigating tobacco use overall, and in particular the case of minors,” said Joe Callanan, Town Counsel for Brookline. “Municipalities have a leading role to play in protecting the public health, and especially here, protecting young people from the dangers of tobacco products.”

The ruling allows Brookline and other municipalities to more fully regulate tobacco sales and both prohibit the sale of tobacco products to minors and prevent a new generation of young people from becoming addicted.

The court found that the Town’s incremental approach to prohibiting tobacco sales was expressly permitted by the state law raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21. In its ruling, the SJC noted that communities have “considerable latitude” in enacting local bylaws. Only when there exists a “sharp conflict” will a court invalidate a local bylaw that is typically presumed to be valid. The court found no conflict as state law did not clearly “intent to preclude local action.”

The court also acknowledged that municipalities, such as Brookline, are “local community laboratories.” Communities have pushed for years for tougher regulation of tobacco, frequently ahead of the state, including in the areas of bans on workplace smoking, flavored tobacco, and raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21. These efforts were all before similar state action.

The tobacco industry filed its lawsuit after the bylaw became effective in August 2021. The trial court dismissed the initial challenge in October 2022.

“The SJC has today handed a victory to public health leaders who have been searching for a way out — a way for our next generation to avoid falling victim to the many pitfalls of tobacco use,” said Sigalle Reiss, Brookline’s Director of Public Health & Human Services. 

The Town of Brookline wishes to acknowledge Town Meeting Members Kate Silbaugh, Anthony Ishak, Maura Toomey and Nancy Daly, who were the original petitioners of then Tobacco-Free Generation Warrant Article. Brookline was represented by Associate Town Counsel John Buchheit, former First Assistant Town Counsel Patty Correa and the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law, which represented the Town pro bono in this matter.