Board of Health Looks at Changes to Tobacco Sales

By Sue Ellen Woodcock

Winthrop’s Board of Health (BOH) is looking into the idea of raising the tobacco buying age to 21 in Winthrop. But, the beginnings of the discussion hit a rocky road with differing opinions at its July meeting two weeks ago. At this week’s Tuesday night’s meeting, there was a noted absence of the chairman of the board, Nick LoConte, although no one seemed to know why.

According to the minutes of the July 24 meeting, the board had invited Bonny Carroll, director of the Six City Tobacco Initiative, to talk about tobacco cessation and tobacco policies in town. She introduced the town officials to the Tobacco 21 program, which is a town-by-town statewide effort to raise the age of purchasing tobacco to 21. Revere is one of the 151 communities that have raised the tobacco buying age to 21.

During the July 24 meeting, LoConte suggested “that politics be removed and the town should not make referrals (of violations)” to Carroll.

Right now, Winthrop has 19 tobacco permit holders in town, one being a pharmacy. Each permit costs the shop owner $200. Under a contract with the town, Carroll is the person who investigates tobacco violations in local stores and restaurants. She said she does two compliance checks at each place twice a year.

Also attending the July meeting was Dr. Lester Hartman, of the Massachusetts Public Health department, who gave an overview of the Tobacco 21 program.

A dialogue between LoConte and Hartman began with LoConte suggesting education instead of regulation and focus on alcohol use by minors. LoConte also noted there would be a tax-revenue loss to the town.

The conversation escalated to the point where Hartman left the meeting.

Councilor Phil Boncore also attended the July meeting and said the regulation should not take any rights or be viewed as anti-business. He believes that the board should get more involved in the opioid crisis and issues related to the airport.

Freshman Councilor Peter Christopher also attend the meeting and suggested the board look at the loss of revenue impact.

According to the July minutes, Loconte did not want to schedule an August meeting if Tobacco 21 was on the agenda. This past Tuesday night,  Tobacco 21 was a topic of discussion, and LoConte was absent. The July minutes then also indicate that Tobacco 21 not be on the board’s agenda for the next three months.

“I have long advocated for the board to focus our efforts on combatting the opiate crisis that grips our town. Winthrop has the 17th highest overdose rate in the state, yet members of the board want to fight about this tobacco age silliness. The BOH would have a much more positive impact concentrating on the issues that matter in town,” LoConte stated in a text on Aug. 9.

At Tuesday night’s meeting the BOH members also discussed increasing the fee for the tobacco permit to a tiered rate of  $500, $1,500 and $3,000, depending tobacco sold. The board acknowledged it would have to be the town council which would set the fees.

Carroll said that the decrease in revenue for permit holders is 2 percent.

Carroll is scheduled to appear with a draft regulation to discuss Tobacco 21 for the September board meeting. Currently, Winthrop has 14 regulations, and eight other regulations would also have to be adopted for the Tobacco 21 program. These regulations could include “no sales within 500 feet of a school.” Also to be considered is flavored tobacco-products, banning blunt wraps (which are often used to smoke marijuana) and changing the tobacco buying age to 21.

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